Copper Canyon Press ($16)
by James Naiden
Born in 1975 in Madras, India, Tishana Doshi reveals a delicate but febrile sensibility in her second collection, Everything Begins Elsewhere. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University writing program, she worked in advertising for a London firm before returning to live in India in 2001, and now resides in a “village by the sea in South India, and elsewhere.”
Doshi’s poems are wrought with a keen eye for subtlety and nuance, using exactly the right visual description for what she sees. She also captures ineffable aspects of human life, such as the dynamics between people and that never-to-be recaptured essence known as the past, as in these final lines from “Lines to a Lover from a Previous Century”:
Just come to me once again,
so when it’s time to meet my maker
I’ll know to ask the breeze
where to find the vagabond of love.
And when the breeze gathers up
a little dust into the air,
my love, I’ll know to end this wait,
and follow it like a prayer.
This poet knows her business and then some—perhaps because she is also a novelist and a dancer. In this book, there is a wistful but realistic hope measured against the shores of experience. She is not fooled by cant or self-delusion. At the same time, Doshi can wield a problematic instrument such as the question mark in her poems, and to great effect. Here are the opening, free-wheeling lines of “Homeland”:
What if the dead came back as bandits—
a whole army of them on herds of camels,
brandishing swords and Kalashnikovs?
What if they could reclaim our land
with weapons instead of words?
If they came to our roofless shelters
at night with salves for our wounds
and water for our lips?
This collection is impressive by any standard of aesthetic evaluation. Doshi has crafted her poems from a riveting sensibility and life journey into a beautiful gathering, not unlike the flowers and ethereal human beauty she cherishes. The difference is that we have these fragile essences and images down in print, statements that will not go away.