JUDITH LAL:FLAGEOLETS AT THE BAZAAR
Smith/Doorstep Books The Poetry Business
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ISBN 978 1 902382 92 0
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This page last updated: 28th June 2008.
|JUDITH LAL:FLAGEOLETS AT THE BAZAAR|
A flageolet is a small flute, and the poems in FLAGEOLETS AT THE BAZAAR are like songs played to the accompaniment of a flute. Judith Lal fuses images from Indian mythology with her delicate observations of the English countryside, and especially its bird life.
Given that Lal lives in East Anglia, the scattering of bird references throughout the collection comes as no surprise. Here she selects references from her observations of kingfishers, starlings, woodpeckers, waxwings, a kestrel, finches, goldfinches and a barn owl.
Several poems draw on Lal's Indian heritage: the depiction of partition in India, which "resulted in over a million deaths" is explored in MIDNIGHT IN THE WORLD'S CALL CENTRE:
putting a spin on politics would be a good one if only there were newspapers posted to one thousand and one ripped midnights. 1947, the sun is a golden pheasant shaking out its feathers, no newspapers, but a scream fireworked off from neighbouring village makes India a house on fire.Tone varies throughout the collection. Lal's political poetry is powerfully persuasive, THE PARTING OF PLATES:
An earthquake in Kashmir, the partition of plates, the way history is made of other peoples tearsHere, she pays homage to the yearning that keeps us fighting against the odds, against failing social and political situations. But other poems hint at a spiritual dimension not readily reconciled with the delicate beauty of the bird poems. East Anglia may be home, but "home" for Lal isn't necessarily place-specific. THE WORLD'S OLDEST PUDDING voices affinity with Indian mythology:
Birds announce that the milkman is coming with the sweet cream of Krishna's milking.THE SINGER FROM PAKISTAN, ADDRESSES AN ENGLISH AUDIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME plumbs similar territory. Certainly Lal's sense of cynicism is given full sway, cloaked on the one hand with empathy for the Pakistani singer
he sings Allah O. It does something to his faceand is possessed elsewhere of a thoroughly contemporary voice in RED:
Sameer Shah the dashing young dentist and natural stand in for the wayward hero who goes down with a bout of somethingBut exposure and vulnerability is evident too, the question raised: how may we live in this world of society gone mad? We see this expressed in A YEAR ON:
They claimed never to have got the certificate she sent, so were very sorry but held her accountable for all of his debts.Elsewhere Lal's bird poems assume an exquisite tenderness and confidence — DUNES OF STARLINGS:
Starlings that imitate ringtones by day take the shape of a whale at 6 o'clock. So glad to have it fed with cake crumb plankton.and LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER:
Lesser spotted is spotted less but all day he has purred sharply into alders, does not fear himself as small or first up this dark tower block, flattering the day's chrysalis to open.Contrast this with Lal's poems SWALLOWTAIL DAY, RED, and DROUGHT, where she insists on free expression as the natural function and innate right of the poet.
An interest in history — in the interpretation of history in an effort to make sense of the past — is manifest in poems such as MIDNIGHT IN THE WORLD'S CALL CENTRE, THE PARTING OF PLATES and THE SINGER FROM PAKISTAN ADDRESSES AN ENGLISH AUDIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME.
In DEER, the narrative jumps seamlessly to a wild animal where the account of a walk
upon the concreted river with the only other warm bloodied creaturecontains the beautiful lines
circles of glass are Indian eyes, lashes clean with soot, face like a walk with Modigliani's pencil and legs not as Sita saw set with precious stones but of the most elegantly wrapped boneIn HARE, too, Lal captures the essence of the hare as well as his natural attributes:
In newly saved light the hare jumps from the brown box of a field. Ears are only the half of it.There's no doubting the tough emphasis in some of Lal's writing. But it's also a poetry of balance; she doesn't lose sight of the humanity she shares with others.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|