**This review was first published in Alternating Current's online column The Coil*
The snowy owl unfurls
its wings, swoops down
on the field mouse. The mouse squirms,
releases into a need larger than itself.
(“Mother,” p. 23)
Despite the fact that poetry and culture are frequently positioned as going hand in hand, there are still some cultures that seem to be shot directly into the forefront, while others await their chance. Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music is a collection that touches upon the immigrant experience, not so much addressing the process of coming to Canada as reaching out to bring about memories of India and Pakistan, demonstrating how the past can bleed into the present in a way that transcends any sort of assimilation.
Yet the poems of the collection are just as restless as the wasps, flitting around in an inconsistent pattern that frequently leaves the reader with a dizzying sensation. The collection is broken up into five sections, five “tion”s, starting off with a heavy focus on culture and tradition to set the tone. The second poem of the collection, “The Master Bedroom,” does this spectacularly, displaying its cold, sharp tongue in just a few simple yet biting lines:
He is getting married, so the painters
arrived, or his mother is getting married
because she is arranging his marriage.
The first quarter of the collection had me searching for these kinds of memorable and saturated lines, though the main problem in the collection lay, I found, in this very same way of phrasing it: the need “to search.” Where the first quarter of the collection was more grounded to the synopsis of the book, afterward the poems seemed to scatter in every direction. There was hardly any grounding point that could keep me focused on where the collection was going, and if with the more “traditional” verse poems this was manageable, then the prose poems of this collection proved to be a different sort of beast.
The poem “The New Sentence” was a mix between those two, retaining some traditional poetic elements, though its voice resembled poetic prose. It was one of the few that stood out and remained memorable, showing what the collection was truly trying to get at: the shifting times and mass fear that are slowly creeping in, doing so by reminding just who stands at the very center of these machinations:
Chapter one is usually white.
Chapter one is usually male.
Chapter one is usually middle-class.
Progressing further through the poems, however, it becomes difficult to focus and follow along, the prose poems becoming longer and truly more “prose” than “poem.” Ghaffar loses that pointedness that characterizes the beginning and instead seems to throw everything in all at once, requiring quite a bit of patience to work through. They reminded me of a professor who was so engaged and interested in his own topic that he’s trailed off, delving down into several layers of analysis without bringing his students along, as well, having left them to frantically scamper along. That is how a majority of Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music made me feel — On one hand, these are poems written by someone who is clearly knowledgeable and determined in finding ways of expressing these visions, playing with words to achieve the desired effect. On the other hand, there is an overbearing quality to these poems, a certain heaviness that makes them difficult to keep up with and, sometimes, to connect to. They create a barrier between themselves and the reader and remain contained in their own wordplay. They emit a strange sort of music, indeed, one that I found a bit too much for my taste.