Poetry - A God at the Door

Tony Cross is reading all the books and poems shortlisted for this year's Forward Prizes for Poetry. Here are his thoughts on A God at the Door by Tishani Doshi...

This is Tishani Doshi's fourth collection of poems and it feels like poetry written by someone who is comfortable with both their art and craft. In "This May Reach You Either as a Bird or Flower (for Varavara Rao)" she says:

"...You are a dangerous poet in yours. I am trying to be one in mine."

And I think that this thought is at the core of this collection, which isn't all political but contains a lot of politics. Sometimes that is direct and angry, sometimes it is more subtle. And ranged against the horrors of the modern world is hope - "Hope is the noose around my neck." (Survival, p109). I think this is a collection looking for hope.

It's also - intentionally, or not - a collection that pokes at the conscience of its readers. Or at least this reader:

"...In every
republic there will be some who walk down to
the water with life vests and bread, while others
lead soldiers to trapdoors in the cellar..."

"This May Reach You Either as a Bird or Flower (for Varavara Rao)" (p92)

The poems pick up on current events, especially the modern politics of India. There are poems anchored in COVID and the response to it; to politician's statements; to murders and to immigration and flight from violence.

Women are also at the centre of the poems and some of Doshi's most angry poetry is focused on this topic. I'm thinking particularly of "We Will Not Kill You. We'll Just Shoot You in the Vagina", which takes an actual statement by Filipino President Rodorigo Duterte and turns it into a rightfully angry poem. It's one of my favourites in the collection.

But this is full of great poetry. Sometimes she uses the topography of the page too. My favourite example being "The Comeback of Speedos". This makes it seem like this collection is without humour, but that's not the case. Doshi wields sarcasm - or, if I want to be more literary, irony - like a scalpel.

It's a fine collection and it makes you want to read everything she has written. The usual good sign of my enjoyment being the highlights and page markings. But there was one short line that, once I read, I couldn’t get out of my head. I am probably giving it too much weight, but it seemed to me as good a summary of the modern world as many a longer essay or book. If good poetry does anything though it distils an idea into the most diamond-like language. That line is:

“…We are family until we are not.” (Microeconomics, p90)

I have torn it from its context, but that line has stayed with me.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

About The Forward Prizes

The Forward Prizes are a celebration for those who love contemporary poetry, in association with the Forward Arts Foundation. The winners of this year's prizes will be announced at a ceremony on 24th October. Here are the shortlists:

The 2021 Forward Prize for Best Collection

Kayo Chingonyi – A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus)
Tishani Doshi – A God at the Door (Bloodaxe Books)
Selima Hill – Men Who Feed Pigeons (Bloodaxe Books)
Luke Kennard – Notes on the Sonnets (Penned in the Margins)
Stephen Sexton – Cheryl’s Destinies (Penguin Poetry)

The 2021 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

Caleb Femi – Poor (Penguin Poetry)
Alice Hiller – bird of winter (Pavillion Poetry)
Cynthia Miller – Honorifics (Nine Arches Press)
Holly Pester – Comic Timing (Granta Poetry)
Ralf Webb – Rotten Days in Late Summer (Penguin Poetry)

The 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem

Fiona Benson – ‘Androgeus’ (Times Literary Supplement)
Natalie Linh Bolderstone – ‘Middle Name with Diacritics’ (National Poetry Competition)
John McCullough – ‘Flower of Sulphur’ (Poetry London)
Denise Riley – ‘1948’ (Poetry Ireland Review)
Nicole Sealey – ‘Pages 22-29, an excerpt from The Ferguson Report: An Erasure’ (Poetry London)

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