Landscapes Mythicized: Placing Selected Poems of Agha Shahid
Abstract: The lay of a people is often tethered to the lay of the land that they live in or leave behind; for the land holds all the associations of ancestry, heritage, and environment that constitute what Emile Durkheim would call “the collective conscious.” Landscapes may assume near mythical dimensions in forming and framing the creative impulse of writers who draw their images and symbols, themes and motifs, and aspirations and apprehensions from their terrestrial roots and routes. In the present paper, I seek to reread a few poems of the famous Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali with a view to highlighting his poetics of place that remains true to the kindred points of haven (America, the adopted land) and home (Kashmir, the homeland). Attempts will be made to shed light on the re-creative dynamics of his poetry that helps him to mythicize these two landscapes with the aid of “memory” and “imagination.” My objective here is to foreground the process through which the poet’s re-creation of place combines with the reader’s focus on spatiality to situate Ali’s poems such as “Postcard from Kashmir,” “Snowmen,” “A Wrong Turn,” “Snow on the Desert,” “Farewell,” etc. In the poem, “Postcard from Kashmir” for example, the speaker holds the postcard that represents to him the land of his birth – “Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,/ my home a neat four by six inches.” The persistent pains of “exile” lead him to proximate the half-inch Himalayas to this “home,” because he realizes “This is home. And this the closest I’ll ever be to home.” Similarly, in the poem “Snow on the Desert,” the poet brings to bear all his imaginative elasticity to re-create the Papago’s way of living in the Sonoran desert in the South Western part of the United States. His poetic narrative brings to the surface the native history of the Papagos people whose long lost lives are imaginatively re-created by a diasporic poet, keenly aware of the ancient glory of his own homeland as contrasted with its recent abjection.
Keywords: Agha Shahid Ali, Diaspora, Ecocriticism, Geocriticism, Place, Migration, Exile
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Published in August 2019