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by Durlabh Singh

There is nothing startlingly new in Durlabh Singh's latest collection of poetry. In some ways, it comes across as rather old-fashioned, harking back to the Romantic tradition with its allusions to mythology and antiquity. At other times, as in Lady of my Dreams, the poet seems to travel even further back in time, echoing the medieval troubadour, with highly-polished generalisation becoming the rule. There is, however, a degree of technical accomplishment in most of the eighty-plus poems contained within this volume - the author of these pieces clearly doesn't suffer from lack of inspiration

In his introduction, Mr Singh expresses an eagerness to do two things: to use language imaginatively, and to avoid "stereotyped views and hackneyed phrases". I won't go so far as to suggest that his work is clichéd. However, I do wonder whether the lack of interest he admits to having felt for poetry when it was rammed down his throat at school has resulted in a lack of guided exposure to the work of those in whose footsteps he is treading. Yet he is quick enough to refer obliquely to Eliot (Wither my Soul), to Coleridge (The Ancient Mariner), and to Blake (Turner Turner). The latter is a poem I particularly enjoyed - a clever parody, though not original or even unusual. It is the context in which his role models produced their work that seems to have passed the poet by.

Durlabh Singh is not embarrassed to admit that, like Verlaine and many another successful poet before him, he is more concerned with the sound of words than with their literal meaning; that is, after all, one of the distinguishing features of true poetry. It should not, however, be done without care, and I worry that, in some cases, the tendency to select words purely for their sound obscures the intended meaning - if there ever was one. What, for example, is to be made of lines like:

"The world became a deeper reflection of divine

In its multiple misery and abundant canine" ?


"There was no one, only a shadow

Walking upon the incumbent street" ?

To say that this "means a lot, if only you can open up your mind" is to overlook the fact that writing is supposed to be about communication. At the same time, it must be admitted that this poet fully satisfies his second stated objective: to use language as a living thing "connected to all variants of natural sounds carried within our psychic storage".

In such a large collection of poetry, as one might expect, there is no particular logical order, the pieces being more or less arranged in alphabetical order of title. It is clearly not intended that the reader will progress through the book from beginning to end, reading each poem in turn. This, again, is more in keeping with the conventions of past centuries than with those of modern poetry.

Where Durlabh Singh's work does stand out - except, perhaps, from that of his primary inspiration, William Blake - is that the poet is also an artist, and uses his visual talent to create illustrations that accompany and complement the poems. A greater leavening of the written with the visual might have increased my appreciation of the collection as a whole, and would have concentrated the author's mind on selecting only the very best of his work for publication. Mr Singh, despite his prolixity, remains an enigma; I should like to know a lot more about him than the preface to the book tells me.


Review by Deborah Fisher

Open Book

ISBN 1 898030 46 4   Published by Author Publishing Ltd, 2002
130pp, paperback      Retail price £7.95

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