The Toronto Star praises Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music
"Metaphysics can be tiring," Asher Ghaffar writes at one point in Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music, his first collection. There are times a bemused reader, immersed in this whirling dervish of a book, might agree, although Ghaffar's passion and razzle-dazzle inventiveness are also compelling.
Ghaffar is a Canadian-born Muslim who is pursuing a doctorate in social and political thought at York University, but his family roots are in Pakistan. In 2003 he was stopped at Wagah, the border post between Pakistan and India ("I felt myself trapped at the precise place where / my family crossed, did not cross, after the division of the two countries in 1947").
The experience started him musing about the nature of political divisions ("The languages that had been lost. The history that had been stolen") and the sense of being divided within himself as the son of immigrants ("A trace of me was always boarding and unboarding a plane"). His meditations become, in effect, a quest to figure out where he fits in by considering his parents' past and the culture of their homeland ("when one looks back, the eyes falter with the feet and / language slips incessantly into undiscovered rooms that pound on the / head").
Ghaffar relies on "a language of debris" and "broken scattered images" that make his feeling of dislocation palpable in the form of the poems themselves. His aim is to "Weave words as one weaves the strings of a broken instrument along steel frets. The scrambled rib cage of lost music." He also invokes a dizzyingly wide range of references, from the French poet Edmund Jabes to Hindu mythology.
The poems are dense, often convoluted and influenced by concepts drawn from science, philosophy and literary theory. But Ghaffar's inspired lyrical wordplay ("Everything somehow / became metaphorical in the furnace of my mind") and fervent willingness to shake things up make this an auspicious debut.