Review by Ayesha Desai
Poetry in general is not very easy to review. Ideally poetry should offer us a lot of beautiful language and ideas and emotion compacted into a relatively small space. There are so many nuances and personal views of the reader that ultimately impacts on the interpretation. As such there have been books of poetry that I’ve loved, a few books I’ve been indifferent about, and some that simply left me confused.
This self-published anthology, Happy Birthday Raashi by Raashida Khan absolutely falls into the first category. It is a collection of poetry and prose about the fragile nature and transience of life through relating to others, yet it is celebratory at its core. It spans a wide range of topics from love to loss, motherhood to self discovery, femininity to a celebration of her home country, a tribute to a father to encouragement to a child, and the many shades of human relations in all its complex glory. It speaks of strength, of lost love, of heartbreak, of discovering yourself, of giving your heart away, of getting love in return, of memories, of belief, of spirituality and of home!
This anthology combines short poems of a few lines with longer narratives, recounting a diverse range of issues. Admittedly some of the poems ended up being shorter than I expected, but even so they were well written and felt complete without being pretentious or overly-simple. The poems are well scripted enough to let the short pieces stand for themselves, and left me appreciating the depth of the longer pieces more. The style, and rhythm of the stanzas are perfectly balanced.
Using strong imagery and at times very emotive language, Raashida Khan was able to weave together an anthology that is uplifting. As an example of the descriptive nature of the words, look to this excerpt from the poem entitled Soaring Flag.
When boundaries fade and hands link
I will rise robust and rugged
There is a fluidity in the words, the imagery and the sequence of poems which make it a wonderful read. It conveys a feeling of travel as we move through the poet’s life, and this contributes to an organic feel of the poetry. Each of the poems have distinctive boundaries between them; in the form of a one-liner explanation or tribute for each, which actually aids the reader in the interpretation of it, and summarises the theme behind each. It also adds a more personal and slightly auto-biographical element to the work by explaining the poet’s thinking.
In total there are 30 poems and amongst my favourites is a poem entitled, She Strokes, which is a tribute to mothers of special needs children. The emotion, desperation, sacrifice and love are so tangible, it left me in awe and reading through it numerous times. I also particular enjoyed Hear me, my son, which is a both a plea and advice to sons in one. I have to admit to having heard the poet perform this particular poem live at an event a few months ago, and was pleasantly surprised to see it included in this collection. As a mother of a son myself, it spoke to my fears and to my hopes. And essentially that is what makes it so good. When the words leave you feeling that this is relateable.
The accompanying black and white images are almost too simplistic at first glance but upon reading through the words, it is apparent that they were very carefully chosen and in this particular setting they ironically, in fact add colour to the words, instead of distracting away from it.
Raashida Khan has been writing for many years and in this anthology you get to experience a celebration of a life well loved and well lived. Having won short story writing competitions and recited her poetry on public platforms over the years, it is apparent that she has finely honed her craft. Her writing style is uncluttered and appealing. She has managed to move away from the cliched expressions and convey with lyrical depth the complexities of human relations. As Achmat Dangor mentions in the foreword “The reader is able to absorb all of this without losing the pleasure of eloquent rhythms and the smooth flow of words”
On her website she describes herself as a content creator, author, poet, wife, mother and friend – a unicorn that does exist. As a caring, compassionate and empathetic person who loves observing people and life.
This anthology is certainly a testament to that description. It is a brave collection of what is otherwise private and intimate thoughts, and is a good example of what modern poetry should be.