City of Asylum has long been a place of refuge for exiled writers. From hosting poets, playwrights, and novelists, to organizing readings for notable, traveling writers, it’s clear that the organization greatly values the creative voice.
One of City of Asylum’s residents, Tuhin Das, a Bengali poet, is coming out with a full-length book titled Exile Poems: In the Labyrinth of Homesickness. Pittsburgh City Paper got an advanced copy of the poems and they evoke a longing for community and an air of gratitude for a new life.
The collection, which consists of 65 poems, was translated from Bengali by Indian translator Arunava Sinha.
“In these poems, I have sought the meaning of my unforgotten birthplace of Bangladesh; my new life in an American city; my existential crisis, individuality, and loneliness; my displacement, belonging, and new friendships; and my adaptation to a new country and a new language," says Das. “My hope is that readers will discover a heart and mind undefeated by the cruelty in this world and still thirsty for beauty.”
That thirst for beauty that Das speaks of is ever-present in this collection. From commenting on the songs of birds outside of his apartment to looking for kinship in other asylum seekers in Pittsburgh, there is a longing in these poems that pulls you through each page. In one, Das writes:
"That day I don’t even want to know the names
of the flowers in the store.
Just that I love them
the way we love someone at first sight."
There are also universal questions in these poems that plague many writers, like questioning whether or not poetry matters in a world so full of cruelty. Contrasted from the poems that deal with beauty are those documenting the humanitarian crises that have happened over the years in Das’ home country of Bangladesh.
Das writes of the murders of other writers, the disappearances of activists, and other horrors, while still expressing love for his homeland, and a desire to be with the people who remain there.
The poems in this collection are compact, and as a result, very powerful and poignant. One poem reads:
“Last night in my dream I saw
a rooster with its head chopped off.
Who says he was without speech?
From his throat rose a groan
in an ancient language
as old as the Earth itself.
There is even a voice in silence.”
Hand in hand with the beauty of these poems is their resiliency, as they capture the desire of the spirit to overcome and to connect with others, whether it is another person or a flower.
Exile Poems: In the Labyrinth of Homesickness will release on April 26 from Bridge and Tunnel Books. It is now available for pre-order at bridgeandtunnelbooks.com/shop.