Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Reticent Bodies, by Moez Surani

Moez Surani’s debut poetry collection Reticent Bodies arrived on my nightstand with a great deal of advanced praise. There are a couple of flattering blurbs on the back cover – one from Steven Heighton and another from George Elliot Clarke – and RR had mentioned encountering Surani and/or his work and being quite impressed. He was also the recipient of the 2008 Chalmers Arts Fellowship, which is no small feat.

Reticent Bodies does not disappoint. Here are poems in an array of forms and styles – from unabashed examples of meta-poems to the deeply personal confessional lyric. Surani is comfortable in a variety of modes and is willing to write about the very big and the very small.

One thing a reader notices about this collection right away is Surani’s attempt to fit his verse into the broader context of literature in general and poetry specifically. The literary references fly fast and furious throughout this book – mentions of Neruda, Rilke, Austen, Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, Cervantes, Flaubert, Ovid and de Maupassant. They often come with more than just a brainy undergraduate’s reverence for the masters: Surani is interested in exploring how the writers he love fit in or reference his own deliberate vision for his poems.

There are deeply personal poems in this collection as well – so personal that Surani often risks skidding into impenetrable or abstruse territory. Thankfully, he has the good sense to go right up to that line without crossing it. Poems like “Packing for Montreal,” “Yardsaling with Robin”, “(walking home)”, “A Debt” and “Untitled 2” offer snapshots of small, personal, domestic moments that lend just the slightest flash of luminance. This is a poet is obviously unafraid to take virtually any personal experience and render it into an exquisitely craft wisp of illumination.

Overall, Surani shows tremendous promise in this debut collection and proves he is capable of forging a strong, singular voice for his verse. Definitely looking forward to seeing what he does next.

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