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Of Vulnerable Poets

A review of Neha Maqsood's Vulnerability

Fatima Ijaz

Note: Neha's original poetry can also be found in The Aleph Review, Vol. 5 (2021).

The poems in Neha Maqsood’s debut chapbook Vulnerability carry the sustained beat of delicate investigation of maddened inclinations. These deliberate poems are often rooted in rebellion, heartbreak and the ache of displacement. Let’s take a look at these thematic preoccupations in a little detail in a few select poems.

Cover image of Vulnerability by Neha Maqsood

A rebel’s soul permeates the tone of How to create the ‘perfect’ girl, which is ominously defiant and reveals the method of achieving the said creation with bullet intensity. Words like 'burial', ‘dead', 'butcher' and 'slaughter-house' declare upfront that this is no pretty business. A command to “Disbelieve that you can outlive the Man…” further sarcastically indicates doom for the girl who would dare otherwise. The word-initial capitalization of ‘Man’ against the pointed decapitalization of ‘girl’ in the title, is a careful and bold detail which subtly voices disgust and raises concern over the nature of the world we live in.

Another poem that is infused by a dark, defiant impulse is Of colonization and polite hello’swhich stuns as well as alarms with its assertions. For instance, the line: “they say that/ things like this/don’t happen anymore” brings home that the experiential field of this poem is regarded as non-existent - “but the Diaspora knows.” The typography of the poem begins with a tightly bound unit but then hovers mid-air till it goes back to a leaf-shaped compact stanza which treads into a dare at the horizontal apex with the phrase: "the Diaspora knows it does." This spacing is rather akin to the 'game of endurance' between white and 'other' colours. The subtlety of this game has startling connotations, which the reader can merely attempt to fathom unless she belongs to the Diaspora, in which case the knowledge would be a primal instinct.

The creative play with structure continues in the parallelism at work in Swimming against the tide weaving thirteen compelling and often visual juxtapositions, one after the other. The reader has no time to drift and this concentrated technique induces in her a silence full of stones. To quote one of these strikingly painful dichotomies: "//him waiting in a summer pool

of water ready to destroy your life against you arriving

like a gleaming, new penny//"

The theme of heartbreak is also echoed in The Pink Blackout which is an enigmatic poem tracing the clinical ‘misbehavior of heart’. The state of being utterly helpless in the face of tragedy is put forward here and the ‘profuse vulnerability’ of it is palpable in lines such as: “…the clutter of an unborn/ child’s crib.” The ‘pink’ in the title skillfully claims a feminine air, the physical heart, as well as that sense of nearly losing consciousness where all one can see is a ‘pink blur.’

“inexplicable south asian love” is explored in poems such as Things I do to remember home.For the poet, it is with her roots that the notion of belonging is entwined with and not any travel to the world beyond can render this asunder.

"Home, really - where mosquitoes laze

mulishly & oh the humidity, and oh a carton of

mangoes and spicy, spicy grapes."

It is not for the western corporate success that the soul aches—but rather for the place one loves. The poet's lines reveal simply how love does not require perfection, but rather a helpless happiness.

The poems in this collection often induce in the reader the instinct to reach forward and hold them but the realization that they are strong in their own ‘vulnerability’ stops her as she fathoms that the sacred realm of poetry exists on these very grounds.


Fatima Ijaz teaches English and Speech at IBA, and is a contributing editor at Pandemonium Journal. She graduated in English from York University and holds an English linguistics Master from Eastern Michigan University, MI. Her poetry has been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, The Aleph Review, Zau and other places.


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