PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Kei Millerthe Fat Black Woman
In Praise of the Fat Black Woman & Volume

(PN Review 241)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Next Issue Jen Schmitt on Ekphrasis Rachel Hadas on Text and Pandemic Kirsty Gunn Essaying two Jee Leong Koh Palinodes in the Voice of my Dead Father Maureen Mclane Correspondent Breeze
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog

This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of Afterwardness
MaitreyabandhuPalpable in Absence
Mimi Khalvati, Afterwardness (Carcanet) £9.99
In his Paris Review interview, Geoffrey Hill, responding to a question about the ‘difficulty’ of his poems, said ‘Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other…’ This is true. But to think of those difficulties as somehow intellectual difficulties requiring ‘difficult’ poetry to express them is absurd. Mimi Khalvati feels no need to do that in her new collection. Afterwardness is a sequence of fifty-six Petrarchan sonnets that meditate on a central difficulty of life: a void ‘palpable in absence’.

This absence probably came into her life at the age of six when Khalvati moved from her native Tehran to a boarding school on the Isle of Wight. In that move ‘first languages, half-formed, [were] dropped at the border’ (‘Dreamers’). ‘What if a heritage were lost en route?’ she asks in ‘Mehrabad Airport’. What if the past becomes ‘a book with no plot, story, timeline, no protagonists even / and no witnesses to events’ (‘Life Writing’)? The crucial achievement of this collection, Khalvati’s most ambitious and personal so far, is to write an emotionally-convincing sonnet sequence that circumambulates a void; a book whose subject is absence.

Except ‘absence’ suggests loss and pain, the sense of having lost some cherished thing. But these poems are too rigorous for certainties. One of Wallace Stevens’ ‘Thinkers without final thoughts’, Khalvati interrogates the vacuum at the centre of Afterwardness for meanings and feelings in a sonnet-essay on difficult truthfulness:
Why did I say I minded things I didn’t –
soul-making things I’d find too crude to ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image