Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: 'On the Edge of a Very Small Town'

Mark Jackley was a contributor to Issue 4 of Moledro Magazine. In this blog post, I've reviewed his book 'On The Edge of a Very Small Town'. This review has been previously published at Voices of Youth, a UNICEF-based platform. 

In one of the first poems (‘Undertaker’) in his poetry collection ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’, Mark Jackley vividly explores the mysteries surrounding death: ‘Once you’re there, death / just isn’t the same, he thinks. / He carefully sews her mouth / to keep the secret in.’ After all, the air of enigma surrounding death continues to baffle and pique the minds of people today. And later on, it made me wonder: rather than deconstructing what we can’t understand, is it better to accept that obscurity can be more appealing than the truth? Should we be grateful that her mouth has been sewn… and that she won’t be able to tell us, the living, what we’re all steadily approaching?

Crisp yet powerful, Mark Jackley’s poems have a tendency to meander into our souls and make us question the minutiae of life. I could never linger on a single emotion while absorbing his words—for the gamut of sensations and sentiments he explores is vast. With honest language and striking imagery, Jackley’s poems prove that simplicity and succinctness can be the greatest virtues of any poem. In ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’, a collection of concise and jarring poems, gravity morphs to depth, which seamlessly turns into something akin to joy and lightheartedness.

There is poignancy in the mix, as well. ‘The Camera’ is a touching poem about poverty, and the effects it can have on peoples’ spirits: ‘The poor are mostly joyless / in old pictures— / too tired or too proud / to fake it when somebody / points to another / machine and says, “Smile.”’ We’re enmeshed in a world of media and artifice; and sure enough, it can be rare to see raw displays of emotion. But that’s what we see when we see pictures of the poor: unhappiness that was born from life struggles, happiness that is not motivated by a desire to look beautiful or seductive. It’s hard to tell if a camera can truly capture the essence of a moment; but Jackley’s poem showed me that it depends on the people who are being photographed, as opposed to the dexterity of the photographer.

Jackley’s poems embrace universal themes, and are hence relatable to anyone who picks up his book and dives in. And yet, he explores these themes with a unique twist; for instance, take his poem ‘Happiness’, which uses words like ‘dark’, ‘bound with tape’, and ‘hostage’, but still manages to paint an exceedingly powerful image of the emotion we all seek:

‘Sometimes it rises quietly
like water in the basement.

It may soften something
you’ve lugged around for years,
stored in the dark,
bound with tape, whose mouth

you sealed, a thing you were
unable to unwilling
to let go of, so

it held you hostage too.’

Regardless of who we are or where we grew up, we will still be able to appreciate the brilliant tones of Jackley’s poetry. From using Chinese takeout boxes (in ‘To my next love’) to depict love to describing the sun as setting fire to the heads of flowers (in ‘Reading in the car in a parking lot at dawn’), Jackley encourages us to view mundane world events in creative, divergent ways. ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’ is a wonderful mélange of conflicting and harmonious emotions, a miscellany of simple words that have the ability to evoke the most complex feelings.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


My poem was published in 'For The Sonorous', an online magazine founded by Masfi Khan! 

fell off a swing, woodchips sewed themselves
into my pink flesh. my eyes squeezed shut because
they feared blood, mother’s mystical fingers
alleviated the sting, stitched the wound with
the faded face of Barbie and told me to never fear
climbing the clouds to reach the stars.

moonlight kissed my face, mother told me that
regardless of where you live, the moon’s glow
will always be the same. moved. saw the culture
I knew recede into the horizon as the plane sliced
the amber skies. landed in a realm where breathing
was difficult, smoke from vehicles concealed the

moon’s innocent shine. so I relied on the soft face of
mother to give me the light I had lost, her smile the
crescent this country had stolen from the heavens. until
a little girl, my sister, almost died and I realized how much
blood a body can contain. saw mother’s crescent turn
upside-down, eyes that reflected sunlight donning

waterfalls, constellations shatter into fragments too
far to see from the earth. the little girl is alive, happy,
beautiful. I chart maps that describe destruction, realize
that every disturbance comes with casualties, meteors
that burn. except not all losses are visible, some just a
loss of heat, a fire that blazed too long and needs to rest.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


a channel in the mind, specifically carved out
for thoughts to flow with ease, for them to tickle a
soul, make them question something they'd never
doubt. whirlwinds, leaves struggling to hold on to
branches, gusts swirling, uprooting trees and
letting rumination run wild. howling emerging
from shady hollows, whispers embedded, soft
croons, invisible yet possible to detect. skies
that darken in hue, morphing from golden to stormy
purple, clouds that hang lower, threatening to strike
lightning and burn the ground, ignite the green into
a fiery red. threatening to roar thunder, until its
bellow coalesces with the howls, deafening,


Friday, March 17, 2017

Zlata's Diary

Zlata’s Diary is a book by Zlata Filipović; it was written by young Filipović, during the Bosnian War. Although Zlata’s Diary is often overshadowed by The Diary of a Young Girl (by Anne Frank), I believe that it is just as powerful in conveying the horrors of war and ethnic conflict. Zlata is currently 36 years old.

innocent, a drop of water in an
ocean of tar.      ensnared, vulnerable in
fear yet powerful on parchment, ink flooding
the crevices, molecules of darkness slithering
across a page, bringing light to an era

of misery. write what scares you, goes the
old motif.

write what makes your curls stand, what makes
your eyes dilate and freckles tremble. easy for
them to say when their greatest dread isn't
being crushed under mountains of cement
and hurt, praying
that someone will find them and bring them
back to life.

innocence swirls, a drift of chocolate in
a cup of coffee. you infused so much beauty
into a world that craved it, into a society
starved of positivity and delight. an alternate,
youthful perspective glimmers in your voice, a
perspective often forgotten because bombs are
louder than the cries of children. you are too

profound, too deep for a person of your size, you
showed us that privations can destroy innocence
within minutes. how discussions of fun can morph
into contemplations of life – only by turning a few
pages, feeling the air whisper as the written words
dance to our ears, caress our eyes. your power, nestled
in your diary, will never fade.


Friday, February 24, 2017


My poem 'Alive' was featured on Voices of Youth!

galaxies swirl like oceans, a spread of
glitter, waves encrusted with diamonds. we are
enmeshed in a sphere of rock hurtling through
the cosmos, unable to escape, astrophe. bits of
debris shuttling about, enough to destroy a civilization
and annihilate what we spent our lives working towards.

we revolve around an orb of heat, one lick enough
to peel away our skin, singe our hair and rid our cells
of their complexion. the waters that keep us afloat
can deprive us of breath within minutes, cascade into
our bodies and remind us that sweets can occasionally
scorch our tongue.

and yet, there is beauty. despite the fire that can burn
houses and rid flesh of soul, it ignites a flickering amber,
bestowing dead eyes with life, melting ice and letting limbs
move. the water, which suffocated noses and entered
bloody channels, can prevent desiccated lips from becoming
more dry, can help a person awaken from fatigue.
our planet, which rotates at speeds we can’t
comprehend, is at a perfect distance from the sun.

we are so lucky to be alive,

surrounded by green, blue, yellow. alive in a place
that lets us keep relationships, that lets us swallow
food, that lets us stare at the sky and tremble at
what it must feel like to have never been born.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


A world of swimming seas, mirror images
of turquoise overlapping into an ocean of deception.
Petals folding into themselves, concealing the fruit

from rays of sin and light. Wielding an umbrella
when there's never any rain, when the ground is as arid
as the inside of her mouth. Plastic origami conflates

the stars into a single entity, the throbbing heart
of the universe. Making the clouds swirl in
marshmallows, glinting the light of a weak, soft

morning. A whirlwind upsets the calmness of the
lagoon, the mirrors and shards of blue.
But there is no whirlwind. It is prettier to see

concentric swirls dominate the monotony
of an uneventful lake, to see patterns etching
themselves into a motif of beauty. Pale, uncertain

beauty. Preventing her from seeing her true
reflection--only a warped version of youthful smiles.
The lens of our eyes is cruel; creating a new one

makes the world fold into itself, brightens the hues
to glitter and dust, reality to a snide, mocking illusion. Transforms
the truth to a sphere of lies, that sinks to the bottom,

falling, falling to the base of the lagoon, underneath
a current of fabricated beauty, an illusory
world of darkness.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How Enid Blyton Inaugurated My Reading Journey

You can read my new article at The Huffington Post here!

I picked up The Twins at St. Clare’s by Enid Blyton when I was around six. I remember struggling to understand the language and expressions used in England, and reading out the book in what I thought was a British accent. Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan, the youthful protagonists of the St. Clare’s series, seemed almost elderly to me. The Twins at St. Clare’s was one of my first introductions to chapter books. Even back then, I used to write a lot (mostly poems about nature and the universe, among other topics); however, reading the words of other writers wasn’t an experience I’d indulge in often. After devouring the first book, I was satisfied—and hungry. I searched my entire house until I had uncovered the other books in the series and arranged them in order on my desk. Then I sat on my bed, and read the series intermittently over the next few weeks.

I made friends I still haven’t forgotten—Hilary Wentworth, Claudine, Carlotta, and so many others. I left the world behind to join midnight feasts, watch lacrosse matches, and giggle at harmless tricks played by the girls on their French teacher.  I was entranced; I had never realized that words on a blank page could transport people to a happy, fictional world. I was exposed to almost every emotion through the St. Clare’s series: happiness, grief, malice, anger, pride, disappointment. And because of this, I was able to empathize with my peers better—whether it was the jealousy of a friend or my classmate’s dejection at losing a competition. I learned how to handle disappointment—because Blyton taught me that it would eventually get better. I learned how to string simple words into coherent sentences. I learned.

Not long after, I came across The Five Find-Outers, a series of fifteen mystery books. It took me a while to acquaint myself with these new, charismatic characters—for it was also the first time boys were being featured as protagonists in Blyton’s books. But despite my initial discomfort, and my struggle to find the last few books in libraries, I completed the series before primary school ended. The plot of each book was fairly straightforward—some crime or the other would be committed in the neighborhood of the five find-outers (which included three boys, two girls… and a dog), they would investigate (with one boy, Frederick ‘Fatty’ Trotteville, being the brainiac of the group), they’d make some friends and ‘enemies’ along the way, and would ultimately solve the mystery. They’d prove disbelieving adults wrong, and would persistently show their neighborhood that children can be as perceptive as adults, if not more. Even back then, I could resonate with that sentiment.

But my relationship with Blyton’s books didn’t end there: I read the Malory Towers series, The Adventure series, and The Famous Five books. I inhaled her style of writing; in fact, my mother would even say that my writing was reminiscent of Blyton’s style. I discovered hidden waterfalls and underground cities with The Adventure series, met young girls from the Malory Towers series whom I can still relate to. The protagonist of the latter series, Darrell Rivers, became more and more relatable as I progressed into middle school—for she too had a younger sister and friends somewhat similar to mine. She also enjoyed learning. Nevertheless, when I started reading First Term at Malory Towers, I couldn’t understand how Darrell and her friends could be considered so young—since they were several years older than me.

Blyton introduced me to a genre of writing I had sparsely considered—fiction. Some time ago, I found a story I had written in second or third grade: about a penguin that goes time-travelling with her pet. Although the story was far removed from the plotlines of Blyton’s books, I could catch traces of language that were inspired by the dialogue of Pat O’Sullivan, Sally Hope, Elizabeth ‘Bets’ Hilton, and the rest. Blyton offered me a gentle transition from simple books to longer books—books with vivid descriptions, benign plots, and happy endings. It was all very idealistic, and nothing like the real world. But when you’re still in single digits, you’re in no hurry to escape the bubble you’ve conjured around yourself. You want to live in a world where problems can be resolved within a few pages, where innocent children can triumph over manipulative adults, where people don’t always have to have ulterior motives.

Blyton provided me with a safe world… a place where I could explore, question, hope.

A few weeks ago, I was looking straight ahead at the pile of papers, essays, and academic books on my desk. Glossy files leaned against each other, bursting with worksheets, randomly organized diagrams, and a few poems still in their initial stages. My laptop shined bright and demanding. But despite the enticing glint of a screen with work that needed to be completed, I found myself looking to my left. To my left, where I saw a small blue book. On its cover, a girl was riding a horse; and I could see the words ‘Third Year at Malory Towers’ etched on it. Smiling slightly, I picked up the book and reentered a world I had never really left. The word ‘Ambedo’ (a moment you experience for its own sake; Source: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows) popped into my mind, and I realized that the future could wait for a second.  
Within minutes, I had reacquainted myself with friends I had made in primary school. I only read a few chapters—but that was enough to make me realize how much I had been craving the comforting tones of Blyton’s books. I wanted reality sprinkled with idealism and innocence, emotions deprived of chronic negativity, situations without sinister undercurrents. It was lovely to read about girls, whom I now find exceedingly young and precocious, with problems and concerns so divergent from those faced by today’s youth. I feel like pieces of those characters helped me grow during a period of important character development—the age when we’re trying to identify ourselves as individuals, but are unsure of how to do so.

While rummaging through old boxes and shelves, I found the rest of the St. Clare’s and Malory Towers series, as well as a few books of the Adventure and Mystery series. I doubt that I’ll find the time to read all of them. But that said, it’s comforting to know that there’ll always be a way for me to meet the person I was all those years ago.