Today, I’m going to talk to you about a literary UFO that’s not often encountered. It’s brilliantly beautiful, miraculously sad, and it’s called “AFLAME,” which means “on fire” in French. It’s an enigmatic little book, starting with poetic prose as a prelude, followed by more traditional poems, including some in quatrains.
The author? Subhash Jaireth. He was born in Punjab, India. Between 1969 and 1978, he spent nine years in Russia studying geology and Russian literature. In 1986, he immigrated to Australia. He has published poems in Hindi, English, and Russian. He has also published English translations of Russian, Japanese, and Persian poetry, and has translated poems by Australian Indigenous poets into Hindi. And when he’s not writing, he’s studying – a lot. It’s worth mentioning that he obtained a master’s degree in applied geology in Russia, followed by a PhD in geology in the 1970s and 1980s, and another PhD in Russian language and literature at ANU, the top university in Australia, in the 1990s. Quite the intellectual!
But let’s return to “AFLAME” – a book of poetry. Normally, you read the back cover blurb, but you can’t do that this time for the simple reason that there isn’t one. There are no page numbers either, nor is there any mention of “poetry” on the front cover or anywhere else. This is the result – or rather, the credit! – of the minimalist style of the poetry collection at Gazebo Books, a quality publishing house based in Sydney, led by Xavier Hennekinne, to whom I send my regards. The collection in question is called “Life Before Man.”
So, what can I tell you about “AFLAME”? I’ll try to share a bit of this “joyful sadness” that, in my opinion, is at the heart of the book. Sadness because it deals with flames, burns, both literally and metaphorically. It resonated with me because it’s in tune with the world today, the climate change, the devastating fires in Hawaii, and the Australian bushfires in 2019-2020, just before COVID.
Sadness also because it talks about loss, escape, departure. Let me read you a sentence that immediately entered my collection of most poignant phrases: “Each time we part, we part forever; something of us never returns or whatever returns appears estranged.”
Lastly, sadness because it’s filled with nostalgia, like any good collection of poetry influenced by Slavic or even German influences. Think of Goethe and his nostalgia for light, Russian poets trying to break free from nostalgia to commemorate those who are worse off. I think of the poets of the “Golden Age” (Pushkin, Lermontov…), and even the poets of the “Silver Age” (Blok, Bely, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam, Pasternak).
Here’s a quintessential nostalgic sentence from the book: “I sit near the window and watch the world outside unfurled like a kite that I was once able to catch and write into a poem.”
But this lingering sadness is also joyful, with some sort of silver clouds, lightning, traces of light. Just like this magnificent sentence: “This was our last walk together; a walk that’s going to replace all other walks I had with her.” Joyful too, as the sadness is overlaid with Australia’s exotic birds – Lorikeets, Cockatoos, Galahs – soaring over Banksias. All of this lends a hint of hope, a surge of lightness to the whole.
In the end, this book exudes a unique atmosphere. It’s mysterious and bewildering. It takes a little time to get into the rhythm of the book, to weave into the tapestry of the poetry of life… but once you’re there, Subhash Jaireth’s poetry is like a cushion, a comfortable reprieve. It’s also beautiful; you see the beauty of the world and of life.
I’m not entirely sure if I’ll remember anything in particular by the end of my reading of this singular and poignant book… only the vague impression of having awakened my senses and experienced something I had never experienced before.
For all these reasons – and to have the joy of discovering an author – I recommend “AFLAME” by Subhash Jaireth, published by Gazebo Books and available on the publisher’s website. Here: https://gazebobooks.com.au/authors/subhash-jaireth/
Olivier Vojetta – author, literary critic, cultural moderator (“Philo Bistro” at the Alliance Française of Sydney) https://www.oliviervojetta.com/