All about the connections

by Zarin Rafiuddin

Across Oceans: Poems

by Sayeeda T Ahmad

Published in 2016 by Bengal Lights Books (bengallights.com)

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What is a connection? Is it only the geographical? Or, are those landmasses also connected to our own bodies and how we view them in relation to a wider sphere of thought? In her debut poetry collection Across Oceans, Sayeeda T Ahmad explores the connections she had with different places, at different times, intermeshing them with their collective histories and thoughts.

Sayeeda’s talent is that her use of maps and coordinates is not merely fixed places in time and space but reservoirs of bonds both personal and historical. Her poetry book is dedicated to her father whom she credits to teaching her the love of poetry. So, it is only fitting to start with her as an infant cradled by her father, who stayed awake nights when young Sayeeda refused to sleep. It seems staying awake all night when the ‘indigo’ of the sky became ‘pale azure’ helped shaped Sayeeda’s poetic nuances. Her poetry continues like this: with rich colours and imagery, detailing the places she had visited and how changed they are from memory either through the normal passage of time or through the tragedies of war. Starting with ‘Infancentric,’ the poems follow a trajectory that takes Sayeeda’s growing up in various continents around the world and keeps on moving with the non-historic pace of her nostalgia to the history that shapes them today.

Her memories of Iraq, Baghdad and Kuwait are filled with rich colours and of great flavours that overturn the understanding of them as just being distant places or war torn destinations. She talks about Iraq with rich flowerbeds consisting of ‘periwinkle, crimson, aquamarine, tangerine and yellow topaz…’ She mentions the hanging gardens of Babylon and how people hid in basements when sirens alerted them of Tehran bombers. Writing of Iraq with such intimate skill allows human connections to be easily communicated. Sayeeda also sheds tears when places of her memories are now places of war and ‘charred bodies.’ Furthermore, she talks about the Sai, a part of the Hajj, with all its eloquent movements and across time she bonds with Hagar, who first did the Sai.

Talking about the South Asian intricacies of Jackson Heights in New York to the connotative differences of what pickle means to her culture and to an American custom’s officer, we are met with Sayeeda’s expert use of language in layers and sensory details. The poems come alive with such senses of parks in Colorado and the fear of hurting one’s spine in ski slopes or the actual wounds from bicycle riding but still persisting. Or talking about Emergency rooms where life and death is juxtaposed by less fatal pain and making it all feel natural and poignant. The poignancy of her writing is also illustrated when she writes of resilient animals and of anatomy class in which the fragility of life is understood but also the strengths of memory and writing.

The collection ends in Dhaka but takes into account of all the beauty of the world and also the current tragedies of its present. This poet elucidates that the beauty of the ordinary is both visceral and philosophical when we can transform them into language worth their connections. A must read for people who love to travel within pages.

The author is a writer and student of English Literature. A BRAC university alum, Zarin recently graduated from the University of Leeds with a MA in English Literature. She is interested in poetry, creative writing and critical analyses of media and culture.