Form is very essential to your writing. However, sticking to one form or experimenting with it makes a writer’s work different. For example, it can be dramatic change of form in the magnificent Ulysses or it can be the usage of your vernacular in the English-language novel that you’re writing, think Rushdie writing Hindi and Bambaiyaa words without even translating them for his non-English readers.
Shapes of Water by Abierto Reino (Leaf Publishing House, 2020) is one such book. It has experimented with the form. I loved it for the effort to construct a prose-poetry work. However, I’d say, it didn’t quite work out very well. Somewhere this book was out of balance.
Poetry in Shapes of Water
In an usual styling of poems (the heading of every poem is always at the bottom, for example), Shapes of Water begins with the “Beginning” explaining that “[W]e are all made from the same; earth and water” and presents before you poems that evoke a spectrum of human emotions.
I found Refugee excellent, it had the perfect mix of a sociopolitical message and a tragedy so personal to someone that it looks like this person penned for herself in her diary. I was touched. However, to say the same, unequivocally, about other poems in this collection would be unfair for they failed to evoke emotions that make poetry what it is.
Had I known that
splitting the sea in two
would not give me the right to belong
I would have died silently
in the lands far beyond— The Refugee
Another evocative poem was “Bound and Silenced,” below:
is a quiet day
one of those
where turmoil rages
inside of me
but I lack words
So I burn up a bit
hoping there will be
Tomorrow— Bound and silenced
Prose in Shapes of Water
Reino’s prose, I thought, was better in terms of the craft of writing. I even conveyed this message to Reino over the Instagram as well that she should focus on her prose, and this book could’ve been a full-fledged novel or maybe a collection of short stories. However, it ends up a mix of prose and poetry in its present form, which is unconvincing in both.
In “The Garden of Memories” the interchangeable use of one of the characters signaled at poor editing. (A character is mentioned “Diane” and “Diana” throughout the story besides other style errors in the prose.)
However, I loved reading Fariha’s story. The protagonist was extremely convincing, the traditional Pakistani-culture setup was extremely original. I felt that it had a certain depth, though the subject is done and dusted.
The confusion between determinism and uncertainty, and a slight hint of a woman defying everything for the first time embarking on a new journey, in Fariha’s character was clearly presented by Reino’s prose: “She gets up from the bed and puts on the new coat she bought for the occasion. Then grabs the trolley handle and her new purse. She checks the passport and plane ticket, even though she knows she has them, she just needs to feel the smooth paper with her fingers.”
And the emotional strength, a mark of the character which Reino develops here, was exhibited in her response to the cruel husband: “I am leaving. I will not return, I will not call. And I will not miss you. The rest of my life begins now, without you, and I waited a long time for it to begin. I hope you enjoy this empty flat, Goodbye.”
This book could’ve been much more; however, some technical and structural flaws make it what it is. I hope Reino takes care of these things, if she finds whatever I’ve written meritorious enough for consideration, and I hope to read a new work by her in the future.