Book Review: In Another Country by Rafiq Kathwari Publisher
In Another Country (Doire Press) is an experience of loss - defined by his mother's lifelong battle with schizophrenia that forms a recurring theme in the volume.
Rafiq Kathwari is unique in more than one way. A Kashmiri poet, who writes in English, spent his youth in New York and wound up in Ireland to win the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, Rafiq became the first non-Irish recipient of the prestigious award. In Another Country (Doire Press) is an experience of loss - defined by his mother's lifelong battle with schizophrenia that forms a recurring theme in the volume.
Among his other influences is Kashmir - his hauntingly beautiful birthplace, which much like the poet's myriad memories, is jinxed by forces beyond his control. In the very beginning of the collection, you come across Hallucinations, a poem full of echoes of the several worlds Rafiq simultaneously inhabits - America, Kashmir and in his own words - his mother's mad laments.
Rafiq's poetry is sharp, like the broken shards of glass. He possesses some of Agha Shahid Ali's formal skills: he can rhyme when he wants to and he can use meter effectively. In Another Country, a poem inspired from a line by Shahid, another Kashmiri-American poet of repute, Rafiq scrivens about rain and makes an intimate connect between everything precious to him. In Kashmir, half-asleep, Mother listens to the rain/In Manhattan, I feel her presence in the rain.
Many of his poems rely heavily upon memories from his growing up years. In Sunday Bath and What Happened to a World there is much reflection and rumination about the past - ridden with events and mishaps. I remember only blurs: glass/shattering, treetops waving, sirens/a cold mask on my face: breathing. Though the lines can startle you, as they often do, Rafiq carefully avoids descending into sentimentality.
There are several immensely enjoyable poems in this collection: e.g. What does Freedom Mean?, Veracity, Fire Tree and Starting my Descent. Psychedelic in parts, In Another Country is unusual in the sense that it makes you leap - intellectually and imaginatively - from Kashmiri felt rugs in one poem to Irish slangs in the next. In between you find shades of Allen Ginsberg.
Rafiq is good at capturing the moment, like all good poets, but what is uncommon about him is his oeuvre. He has a tendency to write forcefully on virtually any subject - his nephew's death in Jalalabad, his brother who drowned in the Arabian sea, his older brother who runs one of America's biggest furniture businesses or his mother, who whiles her time away in an old-age home in New York.
Rafiq Kathwari's poetry is powerful yet painful. It places us precariously on the edge of the extirpative power of poetry.