Nausheen Eusuf’s debut collection Not Elegy, But Eros is conversing with giants. Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Freud, and a slew of other great names are sitting at the table. In both form and content, Eusuf is serving what these great minds have tackled before. Mostly in formal verse with solid stanzas and couplets, a rarity these days, Not Elegy, But Eros slides from the grand metaphysical to personal, seamlessly. In “Ding an Sich,” Eusuf debates with Kant:
For the thing-in-itself made liars of us all.
A thing of beauty used to be a thing of joy.
No ideas but in things, but what if things
fall apart? (I know a thing or two about that.)
Things as they are are not what they seem.
Not Elegy, But Eros is also full of wordplay and wit. Sounds are often the decision maker. This penchant for humor balanced with grand thematic concerns creates pleasure in turning the page and wondering what will come next. Rarely, do seasoned poets take risks with such abandonment.
In both “Ode to The Apostrophe”:
O Rose, O ye laurels
O wind, O wild West Wind
O body swayed to music
O O O O that Shakespearean rag
and “Ode to the Joke”:
Praise the merry-maker
and peace-keeper too,
who sees us through
our faking & breaking
our shaking & quaking
from our first awakening
to our final forsaking.
a playful and exuberant voice is used. Unusual, risky, and vulnerable, this tongue-and-cheek tone has rarely been accepted for publication in America since the 1960s, except in children’s literature.
Although this collection is layered with fun and games, poems are dedicated to murdered LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan, victims of the July 2016 Dhaka café bombing, and protestors killed and injured in political violence. By laying humor beside atrocity Eusuf brands powerful images into the psyche.
In “Musee des Beaux Morts,” Eusuf takes the role of tour guide, pulling the reader as tourist through her family home and history. A stunning feat, that perhaps poetry can do better than any other media, like a mental film-montage, we trip through a family album, tree and home:
You can take a quick peek, however,
at the wedding portraits on the wall,
from 1967. No photographs please.
Not currently on display in the sari
she wed in, which I’m told was rose,
but now retains the merest hint of pink.
With admirable form, while adding new content, Not Elegy, But Eros is using the history of poetry to discuss new topics in a unique, entertaining, and captivating manner. Keep your radar tuned for Eusuf’s second collection.