Nonplussed
By Peerzada Salman
The Little Book Company
ISBN: 978-969-2278-15-7
65pp.

Nonplussed, Peerzada Salman’s new collection of poems, published as an e-chapbook by The Little Book Company, takes hold of the reader in a dream-like sequence; there is a sharp and often ominous presence to these poems.

Erebus, the primordial Greek god of darkness and shadows himself appears midway and announces twice: “The night is here to stay.” Elsewhere, there is a dream of “Eyes/snakes/the blue moon” which echoes the duplicity to be visited in poems such as ‘Cocooned’, where we move into a slippery modern world full of “sexy deceit.”

The dark goings-on leave the poet in a state of disbelief, as he tries to assure himself: “No, I’m not in shock/…No, I’m not hurt/…No, there’s no blood there.” The denial is chimed thrice, the favourite number of the dark arts. Words such as “deceit”, “rot”, “sin” proclaim a parallel, insincere shadow-world in an apparent “sexy” realm.

The theme of utter disbelief found in “Cocooned” is also the first sound the reader perceives as she picks up Salman’s latest book; the title boldly declares in a one-word somersault — Nonplussed. The dark reverberations are met with bewilderment in several poems, including: ‘Noise’, ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Done With It’, amongst others.

There is palpable perplexity in ‘Noise’ where the poet is taken by a “noise” that he can’t entirely fathom and it has evoked questions that are contradictory in nature: “Is it you cancelling me?/ Or is it…an angel in distress?” He asks characteristically three times, as if in utmost incredulity: “What’s that noise?” The mysterious noise is at once compared to “gesture” and “bullet”, and an actual “world”. The suggestion is that a “woman of two minds” has caused a genuine confusion.

Peerzada Salman’s latest collection of poems are often about love and its emotional tribulations and range in tone from dark to plaintive to bewildered

‘Melancholy’, which is also the first poem in the collection, is a sombre note, with sadness come upon a face that makes “Man and beast come to a standstill.” There is bafflement invoked in the encounter of a face with an almost Mona Lisa stature — for what face could cause such fateful cessation?

‘Done With It’ starts out with a rhythmic clarity and has a no-nonsense air about it. There is finality and a resolve to this poem. The repetition here also comes in three (“When I say I’m done with it”), stressing a certain maddened energy. It is also an ominous chant, of a speaker who is tired of obsession and wants relief, of a speaker who does not want to be judged, of a speaker who wishes for a new kind of freedom.

There are other poems, the reality of which cause genuine and concerning confusion in both the reader and the poet; a poem like ‘Khushi Said’ is full of the innocence of a child who has a simple wish in a political climate that is indifferent to her plea: “Don’t kill my father/ He is my father/ I’m his daughter/ He is my father/ I’m his daughter.”

The repetition of this simple assertion is astonishingly mournful. The mayhem of a child having to undergo such an experience is further intensified with the following lines: “I have neither memory/ Nor desire…And haven’t seen God yet.” The absolute helplessness of her plight and condition has been captured profoundly in this poem!

In ‘Questions’, there is chaos in a question such as, “How does a man feel to be killed by men more than a dozen?” The outward brutality of the act is of course considered, but what makes the ache particularly acute is the focus on the inner feelings of such a man.

The other poems reveal a playful tone and talk of love, though some of the dark theme is found as a trace on titles such as ‘Duplicity’. A dark laughter ensues in ‘Duplicity’, in which the speaker wishes to explore a shared love and frankness which doesn’t leave room for lies of any sort: “I want to dance with you…/ And mock you for having two left feet.”

In ‘Meeting’, another love poem, there is a plaintive note in an otherwise incorrigibly attractive meeting; they will meet: “You, wrapped in gloom/ Me, colour blind.” It is as though the speaker has given in to the reign of sorrow that is life and, even if this meeting is as short-lived as a “One-Act play”, they shall be together for all it’s worth.

The title ‘Half-lit Moon’ ensures a dim setting, in which the ‘night’ finally reveals more loving attributes. The lines “Will you stub out the moon for me?/ Will you be…me?” invoke a strange intimacy, asking the one addressed to, in the act of repeating a familiar act by the speaker, actually become the double of the speaker.

In love, one may at times want to enact the mannerism of the beloved, and thus these lines are both invitation and provocation. Cigarettes are also called upon in ‘Skin – I’ and ‘Cigarette’. In the former, it comes with an ominous declaration of the poet: “Your skin is love”, which is followed by a description of a cigarette “not yet stubbed out.” It makes the reader question the longevity of lovely skin.

The poem ‘Cigarette’ announces itself as an ode to a singular, solitary cigarette, as if the speaker is immersed in contemplation at the moment the poem is occurring. The fascination with the “curls of smoke”, which can signify at intensities either “agony” or “affection”, momentarily transports one to a Dantaesque “whirlpool”. The final arrival of the “bluish white bird” is akin to a dreamy realisation.

‘Haiku 3’ also visits the subject of love with a touch of malice; this time to threaten the poet’s interest from coming too near him. The poet is afraid and interested at the same time; “Love can fade away” he confirms to her and yet continues to speak of love to her.

The poem ‘Nothingness’ contrasts with the eagerness of poems like ‘Half-lit Moon’ and ‘Meeting’. Here, the poet has succumbed to the pitfalls of a “long journey” and found at the end that there was nothing worthwhile in it; in the “book of love”, he finds no words that could uplift, give cause of hope or joy, and in fact the very journey of love, itself, seems to have been a mistake.

The scale of the poems found in Nonplussed range from dark, to plaintive, to bewildered. There are also literary invocations present in poems that serve as odes to Sadequain, Bukowski, Kafka and Agha Shahid Ali. Overall, Salman’s poems “leave you with no choice” but to listen in rapt attention to their honest excavations.

The reviewer is a poet and educator. X: @FatimaI284

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 10TH, 2024

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