Image Credit: NASA via Unsplash
This week, I read Sascha A. Akhtar’s book, #LoveLikeBlood, a colorful collection of hybrid and collage poems. The pieces experiment with form, and some of them are pastiches of words and phrases, cut out and glued together to create an interesting visual effect, lending themselves to the chaos and fragmentary nature of the modern world. Sometimes, the poems are an endless barrage of different voices and phrases, reminiscent of the constant flow of information in the digital age.
Several of the pieces concern the discrimination that people of South Asian descent experience. Akhtar’s voice in these pieces is a commanding presence, demanding readers to sit up and listen close.
For example, in “Freak Breach,” the speaker says—“label me/I fucking dare you–//I’ve got you under my skin.” The speaker’s words are in your face, daring the reader to judge her based on her skin.
“how do I terrorize you?” she asks, in a particularly moving moment, challenging the reader to look at their preconceived notions of others, and to reconsider. Part of the strength of Akhtar’s work is her honesty. The other pieces are warm and gentle, the two different tones developing this genuine emotional core to the work. It’s an interesting balance between the two distinct threads that run through the book.
The piece I like the best is “Heartwood,” a poem which concerns liminal spaces, and the relationship between the speaker and another. The speaker says:
“So let us suppose there
is no Orpheus, there is
no Eurydice, just you
& I, Orpheus, I
who is leading whom
out of the underworld
Lovecat, I don’t know
but forever & a day.”
I love how this stanza sets the tone for the piece. The speaker and the “you” in the poem are both an example of love, but real and not mythological at the same time. I’m not sure what “Lovecat” is, but I really like that as a pet name for a lover, especially when it’s combined with “forever and a day,” which is a sincere promise.
The poem goes on to make more promises, about how the speaker and the lover will find each other, in the liminal spaces–the heartwood, which is the dense inner part of a tree, where the timber is hardest.
When we were trees, you
We were the one, immaculate
We are fine.
We are good.
We are great in fact.
It’s just this body bleeding
out to the universe
This ending is absolute perfection. I can’t think of two stanzas which flow so perfectly together as these ones do. I love how it ends, referring to the lover as a witch, indicating she’s been bewitched by the lover.
Akhtar’s hybrid poems snap and crackle with energy; they emanate warmth and light. I highly recommend #LoveLikeBlood, which is available through the Knives Forks and Spoons Press.