Roll-over image of a simple drawing of flowers bending in the wind with Mimi's name writen in pink
home  |  biography  |  publications  |  poems  |  tutoring  |  contact  |  links

Poetry Salzburg Review: Review of Child
by David Malcolm

Mimi Khalvati
Child: New and Selected Poems 1991-2011

In Mimi Khalvati’s wonderful collection Child: New and Selected Poems 1991-2011, the song is everywhere. The volume is a wonder box of traditional forms, alive and pushed to their semantic potential. Sonnets, villanelles, ghazals, rubaiyat stanzas (á la mode de FitzGerald), even that raritas, a sonnet redoublé (a chain of fifteen sonnets, in which the first sonnet provides the last line in each of the following sonnets; in fact, Khalvati makes this already complex scheme even more complicated by starting each sonnet after the first with the last line of the preceding sonnet). The sonnet redouble ‘Love in an English August’ (pp 90-97) is a marvelous piece of craftswomanship (which is not without semantic weight itself). The recurrent lines of the form embody the hypnotic heat of the city, but also the issueless interweaving of the lovers’ difficult relationship. Traditional form is, it must be stressed again, used purposefully by Khalvati to embody meaning. Seldom have the plangent repetitions of the villanelle been employed to greater effect than in ‘Villanelle’ (p9).

No one is there for you. Don’t call, don’t cry.
No one is in. No flurry in the air.
Outside your room are floor and doors and sky.

Lines 1 and 3 are, as they must be in the villanelle, repeated constantly, a sad refrain, giving shape to a sense of loss and exile. These are recurrent themes in Khalvati’s poetry. The sense of belonging and not belonging, to England, to Iran, haunts her verse, although her thematic range goes well beyond that. In ‘Ghazal’: The Servant’ (p21) she can deploy the traditional Persian form, the ghazal, to express a sinister world of threat that, doubtless, has local reference, but goes beyond that to express a terror of history, a terror of danger, das Unheimliche that sometimes only popular forms can reach. (One thinks here of Geothe’s ‘Der Erlkonig’ or James Fenton’s ‘I saw a Child’, and Wordsworth and Coleridge are not far away either.)

Ma’mad, hurry, water the rose.
Blessed is the English one that grows
.............................out in the rain.

Where are the children? What is the time?
Time is the terror curfew throws
.............................out in the rain.

Khalvati employs traditional technique and form and great freedom. Full rhymes interweave with half-rhymes, rhyme schemes change between stanzas, some poems do not rhyme at all. But always there is remarkable linguistic and technical resource at the service of a poet who has something to say, and can only, of course, say it through whatever technical resources she deploys. Khalvati is a very good poet. This is a collection that will offer pleasures to many readers for many years. Thematically varied – not just childhood and exile, not just Persia and England (though these are vital in earlier poems), but also love, death, memory, water, birds, London, the Mediterranean – these are also her subjects. The technical resource, the song, this too will stay with the reader long.

© Poetry Salzburg Review/David Malcolm

about this site | contact | © Mimi Khalvati 2013