"A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep."
It appears as though Inner State (Daily Star Books, 2020) takes the aforementioned Salman Rushdie quote to heart, with a similar sentiment echoed in the poems "A Scribbler's Insight" and "When Tears and Rainwater Unite".
Mohammad Shafiqul Islam's collection of 48 poems is rather politically charged, and it doesn't apologise for being so. It offers an appeal for us all to pay better attention to our surroundings—little things like the presence of a beautiful woman adorned in a white saffron sari, and more pressing matters like global destruction via wars and climate change—everything counts. But amidst these subjects, the poems more deeply explore the Bangladeshi landscape in the aftermath of war, pollution, socioeconomic divides, and political corruption, as depicted in "Tabula Rasa", "Food for Thought", and "An Eye Opener".
War, despite being horrifying in its actuality, is often glorified in the name of patriotism, to encourage people to enlist in droves in service of their nation. But Inner State argues against the destruction that follows such phenomena. Mohammad Shafiqul Islam doesn't hold back when talking about mass rape, countless ruined childhoods, widespread famine, people being sentenced to a life of poverty, and the environmental damage, all of which constitutes a war-ravaged landscape. In "Shadow Lines", the poet paints an image of war at its most brutal, each word heavy with the trauma and horror experienced by those caught in the crossfire. The poem itself is a tribute to Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines (1988) which explores the implications of 'lines' that simultaneously draw and divide people. Islam's poem contains references to historical events like the Indo-Pak Partition and human rights issues such as racism, colourism, religious discrimination, and refugee crises, and in all these verses, the truth in his words are harsh, but necessary.
The book also dwells significantly on humankind's relationship with nature. Islam repeatedly equates nature with innocence—such as in "Walking Barefoot On Grass"—and attempts to shake loose the ignorance that complicate the state of ethics in our surroundings and fuel humanity's unquenchable need for consumption.
Finally, the last few pieces explore the idea of personal growth through the poet's experience with love and anxiety. While the former can feel somewhat unrelatable, with the fine line between love and infatuation left undetected, the latter is illustrated with a certain degree of grace. "My Last Evening on Park Street" can be especially suited to a bookworm's sense of romance. Overall, this poetry collection expertly addresses all that it takes to be 'woke' in 2020, particularly in Bangladesh. Whether by choice or otherwise, we've all been deaf for too long. Inner State can be a fitting wake up call.
Inner State is available for sale at Bookworm Bangladesh, Bookends Unimart, Boipathai.com, and Rokomari.
Rasha Jameel studies microbiology while pursuing her passion for writing. Reach her at email@example.com.