Bottomless Hourglass, a collection of prose-poems, was recently released at an impressive function at the University of Kashmir. The booklet (116 pages) contains more than hundred short poems written in a prose form, a genre that has been in vogue for many centuries in the world.
However, I have no idea if any Kashmiri English poet has ever tried his/her hand on this format. This is Aamina’s third collection of poetry that has been published by Edsol Informatics, Noida. As we know prose includes novels, shorts stories, novellas and scripts, but poetry includes lyrics, odes, ballads and other forms with poetic qualities like iambic pentameter.
A prose poem contains elements of both the poetic form and the prose form. However, prose poem doesn’t have line breaks that follow a rhyme scheme. At first, it might appear as a paragraph, but on close reading one finds it many traditional poetic devices like meter, repetition and choice of words working in unison to bring about the music in the poem.
As mentioned above, prose poetry has existed in many cultures across the globe. A seventeenth century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho in believed to be the pioneer of this form.
In the West, French poets like Bertrand, Mallarme, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and English poets like Walt Whitman and Edgar Ellan Poe wrote many prose poems.
In the US some twentieth century poets like Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Simic and Bly introduced long and short variations of the prose poetry form. Although there are no fixed devices that a prose poem uses, it does share with the traditional poetry forms the following figures of speech—alliteration, repetition, metaphor, apostrophe, rhythmic structure etc. Many scholars have called prose poetry ‘flash fiction’ as it uses a lot of figurative language.
How do we make a difference between a traditional poetic form and a prose poem? A traditional poetic form like a lyric is a song sung in the accompaniment of a lyre. For example, William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads contains his personal experiences which he recollected in tranquillity and got peace of mind. ‘Solitary Reaper’ is about the song that a reaper was singing in some unknown language. The poet said,
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
These poetic lines are short and musical. In the same way, PB Shelley in his ‘Ode to West Wind’ sings:
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Contrary to the lyrical qualities of the traditional poetry, prose poetry has to be read slowly as an intellectual exercise in understanding the meaning and thematic concerns of the poet. Let’s look at some of the examples from Bottomless Hourglass. The collection begins with this poem:
His eyes. The gloom. He set fire to the plastic
shackle. His jealousy in the ashes. He still belongs to
me. “At your disposal” he said.
Garbage can, the trash bag being my shroud. The
stinking rejection slathered all over my flesh.
My mould all riddled, evaporated.
My ginger kitten plays while I am
getting played on, crying. The tablets
dissolve under my tongue and the chest
Disaster. Memoria. Glowing flames. Mirror. His
hair. Us. He threw us. I hurt him, God better have a
good reward for this sacrifice.
As can be seen, the poem begins with two-word sentences before longer sentences are used. The last bit of the poem consists of single and two-word expressions before a longer sentence ends it. Another poem ‘Let it burn’ goes like this:
Cried. Swallowed the end. Spine bent, can’t shed tears, so I send them back
down as thorns. My lips as Venus flytraps, not roses.
Cry. Die for your own self. Allow it.
The candle. Don’t burn your hand, don’t thump it. Don’t rush, feel the pain in
slow motion. Blowing the flame out doesn’t end it, the candle is there. Let it
burn intensely, all the way down, its tears falling down as it gets all eaten up by
the darkness it once preyed upon.
Will cry. Or not. Withered flowers have nothing to give off, not even a stench.
In no way does its structure give one a feeling that we are reading a traditional lyric or an ode. It is a paragraph containing multiple forms of sentences—from a single-word to a complex sentence. However, one does notice the choice of words and their flow in a musical way as in “Will cry. Or not. Withered flowers have nothing to give off, not even a stench.” The poem ‘A bottomless hourglass’ that forms the title of the poem as well is designed in such a way that you fell you are reading a short story.
It’s just that I am scared that our time is not like the sand from the upper
compartment of a typical hourglass which falls into the lower one, retained
till one empties itself into another, so that when it’s flipped, no loss. Relief. It
starts all over again,
nothing slipping away or running out, every moment regained, all in good time.
But our time is borrowed, it is measured by a bottomless hourglass.
The sand slips away through the narrow, clenched, unburnt bridge, never to be
lived again. Perpetual wait, agonised falling, unceasing patience.
The mellow time yellows into nothingness. I am scared, so scared, all the time.
Hold me in your thorny embrace, it is less scary than the softness of the petals.
I’m used to you.
Thematically, the poems in the collection talk about the poet’s struggle with herself, a disturbed soul with all its traumatic experiences around.
Therefore, the title of the collection Bottomless Hourglass makes sense as it denotes the ticking of the finite time that our life has been granted and with no end to death. However, in Aamina the glass is bottomless, that is, a chasm that can’t be fathomed. Although a tender mind, Aamina has got sublime ideas.
The book is printed on an off-white paper with graphics. I am sure poetry lovers would love the book and appreciate the hard work that Aamina has put into it.
Professor Muhammad Aslam taught English literature at Kashmir University and Central University of Kashmir, and headed the departments of English at KU and CUK.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.