[Reviewed by Nicole Arocho]
More than Solidarity with a Mosaic of Mind-Eating Poems
Raj Dronamraju’s Solidarity with the Flesh Eating Mosaic & Other Poems is a book full of poetic surprises. His take on poetry is a fresh one, and his unconventional metaphors are proof of this. As I was reading his poetry, I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, not only as a reader but as a poet as well, in order to understand his original compositions. I am not implying that it was hard for me to understand his writing but, rather, that his poetry is an exercise of the mind in which the process of reading becomes a process of understanding as each verse comes along your eyes; the metaphors and poetic images come together in one compilation of words that make total sense as one written piece.
With this book you never get bored. Dronamraju writes within many subjects; the ones that struck a chord in me the most where his poems portrayed society’s negative inputs in humans as a whole. His criticism of today’s society in “No Need to Buy Apples” is light and humorous, but still delivers the message against conformism and the lack of new, creative ideas in society. I here provide the last strophe of such poem:
If I could see the blood in my veins x-ray style
I would notice it slowing down for a rush, a flood to a steady hum
The horizon is limited
The scope of vision is limited
Ambition’s being baked into a pie and served in small, easy to eat slices
It is an apple pie of course
Another poem that I read more than twice is “The Elephant Symbol”. The personal connotation of this poem is very clear, and the author uses the elephant to portray the embodiment of religiousness in his culture as a Malaysian, and how such religious ties weren’t where he was headed in life. Here’s an excerpt of the last strophe:
The pachyderm that means so much
Strength, fertility, creator, this world and cycle
Is prodded with sticks when it wants to do something on its own
How disappointed I was
To be prodded with sticks
When I tried to go in a different direction from the rest of the herd
Solidarity with the Flesh Eating Mosaic & Other Poems is divided in two parts. However, to me it has three divisions within itself, according to the context of Dronamraju’s poems. First, there’s the category of third-person poems, in which the poet writes from the eyes of some character in society whose point of view he wants us to see, to get into, to feel his/her own pain and emotions. Such is the case of Madwoman, in which the poetic voice talks about women’s role in centuries past and how different it is now:
Her 19th century words
“It’s like being in a jail”
Her 20th century curse
“I can’t lower myself to feel happiness
Stroking his carcass, at the beck and call
When they identify the ritual sacrifice, it will be the family
Second, there is the group of poems construed as pieces of criticism towards society and humanity’s negative behavior in general. Apart from “No Need to Buy Apples”, I very much liked the poet’s take on pop culture’s escapist nature under the title “A Simultaneous Scheherazade”. By finishing with the verse “There is no escape from escapism”, the author presents us in a clear fashion the consequences of the media’s “filters blocking the imagination”. It entertains us but, in the end, we can’t “remember a thing” for “it is too much” because “our minds have not developed at the same speed” as they used to before mass media offered us an unlimited escape from reality as technology progresses.
And third, but not least important is the category of personal poems, intrinsic pieces of the puzzle the author creates in this book. These poems are the most emotionally moving and their passion and power registers with the reader more strongly (without making the rest of the poems any less exciting to read). Although I state that these are personal poems, I say this in the sense that the poet is using the poetic voice to portray situations in life that may have happened to him, or that his writing has being influenced by events or observations surrounding his life. Such is the case of “Friends of Your Own Age”, where the author writes about the journey of life delimited by the age of 35. Before such age, he was “still not accepted as part of the tribe”, and after, he felt that he may not be “going out and meeting people”. To the author, he was never fully accepted in society, and he doesn’t think this fact will change anytime soon. But the “personal” poem that struck me the most for its blunt approach was “Planet Sexy”. The use of the space and planets as a metaphor of his position in society is very clever and fresh, and his writing feels very accessible and very relatable, at least to this reader. The last verses “Circling the galaxy in my head/I can only stomach a world very different from this one/I won’t survive re-entry” made me think of the “other” world writers go to, where we travel in order to get our words on the page, where we feel safe and in control instead of the whirlwind life in society can be.
I cannot finish this review before talking a bit about the author’s choices of titles. Every title was interesting, and pulled me in right away into the poems. As a writer, it is very important to get the reader’s attention from the start so that he or she may continue reading and become interested in the author’s work in general. In poetry, the role of the title is of utmost importance, for the poem, as it is in Dronamraju’s case, may be short, but the title draws the reader in with curiosity of what the poem is really about, and surprises us with either confirming our first suppositions, or, as it is more often, the author gives us a bigger surprise by presenting us a piece dealing with a completely different subject than the one we were expecting. Dronamraju starts the job very well, but also continues it and finishes it in such fashion, leaving the reader no choice but to finish the poem in order to get the whole sense of the piece.
As a reader, I enjoy being surprised. Dronamraju’s poetry delighted my curiosity as a reader and stimulated my senses as a writer. His vocabulary was enriching, and his poetic language and images were of high standards; this way, he dares the reader to keep up the pace with him, to get on his level and contemplate on life’s many mysteries and everyday life situations with short but very powerful pieces of poetry that give life to the “mosaic” the author has created for us.
About the author: Raj Dronamraju currently lives in Ipoh, Malaysia where he teaches English at a local university. He was born and raised in the United States, but has lived in Malaysia for almost ten years after marrying his wife.
You can contact the reviewer, Nicole Arocho, at firstname.lastname@example.org.