Friday, March 24, 2017

"Final Cut" by Saleem Peeradina

This review appears in

In Final Cut, Saleem Peeradina is the quintessential ironic observer, with an eye for meticulous layering of detail, chiseling away at his subject so we see its essence, its magnificent presence. Every little object, from a shaving brush to a rich array of tropical fruit, to the body, is the topic of his poetic gaze. Peeradina radically shows how the simple prose sentence can indeed become poetry, that the thin separation between poetry and prose is questionable. Some of the poems, like “Hummingbird” and “Blue Heron,” read like encyclopedia entries, but there is always something that lifts the piece deftly into poetry.

Humor enters this volume much more so than in Peeradina’s previous volumes. “Sparrows” closes with “At the feeder, their table manners / have a lot to be desired.” As for immortality, it belongs to, of all things, not poems, but the “tavva,” the Indian skillet, which announces, “I am meant to outlive mortals. I am iron.” And the dig at the Empire is inevitable in “Going Bananas: A Discourse,” where the poem culminates in the cartoonish: “the Empire, having lost its stride / and its nerve as well, was headed for a fall: triggering laughter, / the banana’s slippery peel does make clowns of us all.”

A realist, Peeradina plays with nostalgia without succumbing to it. What better way to approach the sentimental moments of your life than by describing inanimate objects central to your memories and ascribing them with the life of emotion. A shaving brush or a grater, the body, or a fruit becomes a transferred epithet of the poet’s concerns. His language is precise, rarely reaching for metaphor in some poems, allowing the object’s ontological condition to hold it in its place, without interference.

In Final Cut, we learn more about the lives of creatures, fruits and objects than we would from a dictionary or encyclopedia. Each is created with a personal touch, the speaker’s experience of holding and tasting and smelling it. Rich sensory detail, holding surprises in its similes (“Wings snapping open like an umbrella”), lines that knock at the boundary of prose, and a range of emotion and landscapes enthrall the reader. We are urged into a place of reverence through deep observation for the smallest things we are blind to.

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