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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

THE WORLD ON FIRE MEENA ALEXANDER, Raw Silk (Northwestern University Press) $13.95

In her aptly titled book Meena Alexander asks, obliquely, and even seems to answer, impossible questions such as: Where is home? Who am I? How do we relate to history? What is the meaning of life? They are questions that her cultural back-ground throws into sharp relief. This poet was born in Allahabad, India, spent her childhood in India and the Sudan and now resides in New York City. Her passionate, yet delicate explorations of the world's fragility, her ability to convey at once her own rootlessness and rootedness means that she says as much about the human condition as about the poet in exile. Hers is uncompromising poetry, grave and visionary. Many of the poems are long, or long but segmented. They pick up threads from each other and contribute to the book's sense of one epic poem. They are measured in tone, silken in their flow and raw in their implications. The tragedy of September 11 is her terrible touchstone:

At the far side of the river Hudson
By the southern tip of our island

A mountain soars, a torrent of sentences
Syllables of flame stitch the rubble

An eye, a lip, a cut hand blooms
Sweet and bitter smoke stains the sky.
                               ('Late, There Was an Island', '1. Aftermath')

Alexander perceives life via the senses, becoming almost at one with her surroundings and with recent and historical events. In this way she ...


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