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Burnt Offerings by Omar Tarin
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Oct 08, 11

The Voice of Eloquence: A Review of “Burnt Offerings”, poems by Omer Tarin (Pub. Islamabad, Pakistan: Leo Books, 1996, Reprint London: NUMA Press, 2003)

Omer Tarin needs no introduction, for he is one of Pakistan’s most renowned poets writing (mostly) in English, and his work has been widely reviewed in this country and abroad. In addition to being a poet, a scholar of literature and history, he is also a Sufi mystic and interpreter and exponent of many of the great Islamic Sufi literary texts of the past. With a unique idiom and voice of his own, eloquent and impassioned, he is considered to be in the ‘main tradition’ of Pakistani poetry in English which was originally developed by writers and poets such as Taufiq Rafat and Daud Kamal in the 1950s and ‘60s and is carried on today by the likes of Tarin himself, by M. Athar Tahir and Ejaz Rahim.

Omer Tarin made his poetic debut in 1993-94 with “A Sad Piper”, his first collection of poems many of which had been published earlier in literary journals and magazines in Pakistan, Britain, Canada and the USA; and this volume was selected as the Best Volume of English Poetry in Pakistan by the ‘Dawn Review’ in the same year. The poet’s promising talent grew with his subsequent volumes, “The Anvil of Dreams” (1995, 1996, 2003), “Burnt Offerings” (the volume now under review) and “The Harvest of Love Songs” (1997, 2003), and with a wide range of work published since then. Although not collected and anthologized so far.

“Burnt Offerings” is a slim book, published with good taste, and presents a wide range of poems expressing Tarin’s poetic sensibility.

Divided into three sections, “Burnt Offerings” is a treat for poetry lovers everywhere and well deserves to be read; it starts off with poems revealing an increasing social consciousness in the poet and mingles feelings of sensitivity with an impassioned anger at the way Pakistan, the poet’s country has been ruined (something very relevant to present day contexts too) by opportunists and religious hypocrites, who divide people in order to rule and control. Other people, in other countries, may ‘dance with abandon’ in mutual tolerance and understanding but:

“Not so in my country—
In my country dust devils dance
And blood runs riot in the streets
And dogs howl under the hollow sky”
(A Morbid Attachment)

The images are haunting and strangely moving. Yet, there is still hope for change and Tarin seeks meaning and knowledge through love. While we have the capacity and the spontaneous joy of living we can always rouse ourselves out of our apathy and degradation, and he advises us

“Seek yourself
Somewhere within me—
Maybe I shall be yours”
(To SK, on the Rites of Love)

And he invites us to join him as he takes us to his magical world on the wings of his music:

“Come, then, with me
And see all I see;
The Sea,
The clearing Sky
After last night’s shower,
And hills, green hills,
That rise far
And where the deer are…”
(The World I See)

Also included in this collection are several poems written abroad, in particular during various tours of Britain; and two of these appeared previously in 1996 in the prestigious “British Annual Poetry Review”—Tarin is the only Pakistani poet after the late Daud Kamal to be twice included in this review, and both poems are exceptional. The first of these, “Remembering Hiroshima”, commemorates the 50th anniversary of this global tragedy in 1995, in solemn an measured tones and warns us all that something o this sort should never be allowed to occur ever again; while the other poem, “Requiem”, is much more subtle and personal in its lyrical beauty, a lover’s address to the beloved, with a quiet but tremendous flow of feeling, so aptly channelized and handled with a deft touch that makes us pause and think and also feel along with the poet, and allow Love itself—at various levels, in various dimensions, take hold of us too.

This is only a very brief review of a fine book, amongst other fine books by a superlative literary genius. A powerful imagination is at work here, one which gives us an original vision of mankind, of Nature and the universal order and manifold facets of a greater Truth and Knowledge. In all respects, Tarin extend considerably the thematic and linguistic possibilities of English poetry, which today spreads far beyond the narrow confines of just Britain. A volume very much worth reading for devotees of literature everywhere.

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