The colloquial poem

May 19, 2024

Salman’s new chapbook is rich and diverse and promises to draw in a variety of readers

The colloquial poem


eerzada Salman’s first collection of poems in English, Bemused, was published in December 2017. IT was followed by his first collection of Urdu poems, Waqt, in 2018. Nonplussed is his second poetry e-chapbook published by The Little Book Company (Pakistan).

Though the title may suggest that these poems are somehow nonchalant in theme and approach, this presumption is quickly dispelled. This is poetry that eschews embellishment and yet is saved from being stark by the very intriguing voice that colours its stanzas. The ghouls of Hades, Bukowski, Kafka and a myriad other people are present in this slim collection, casting at once doom and dark glamour across its pages.

Death is a recurring motif in Nonplussed. The poet seems to be plangently beset by the fear of extinguishment of his self and his power of witness. In Erebus, invoking the hallowed god of darkness, he writes, The night is here to stay/ There will be no light in caves, cellars and dens/ There will be no might in eyes and pens/ The night is here to stay.

For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth, Erebus is “the god of a dark region of the underworld and the personification of darkness. Erebus is one of the primordial beings in the Greek creation myth. He is the son of Chaos, who is also the mother of Erebus’s wife, Nyx, the personification of night. In his De natura deorum (On the Nature of Gods), the Roman statesman and scholar Cicero noted that the Greek philosopher Carneades attributed many children to Erebus and Nyx, mostly dreadful forces of nature. According to Cicero, Carneades claimed that, in addition to Light and Day, Erebus and Nyx were the progenitors of Love, Guile, Toil, Envy, Fate, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Fraud and Obstinacy, among others” (Britannica).

If the latter passage is to be believed, Erebus certainly has a complex inheritance. For Salman, the guiles of Erebus are gaining forbidding potency in the present day where a modern-day Holocaust looms over the world. Erebus is once again spreading his dark wings; he is once again snuffing out whimsical inspiration and light with his attendant shadows. For Salman, Erebus, is at his most malevolent when he is blindfolding eyes and emptying inkpots, silencing the powers of exposition that all poets and writers deem sacred.

In Are you Dead Yet?, in a brief conversation with what seems quite a challenging addressee, he writes, Are you dead yet/ I am/ Are you dead/ Alright/ I’ll fight/ Are you dead/ Bukowski dead/ Or Hemingway dead.

The casualness with which the poet utters, “I am dead” by the end of the poem is striking. One wonders if perhaps this helplessness is brought about by the way the two authors mentioned in the poem die. Even if the poem captures a fleeting moment, death is a core refrain of the collection. The simplicity with which the poet declares his death hints at larger worlds of thought and freedom, which he believes are dying. Perhaps the poet feels that a world that allows the possibility of a poet is dying.

Throughout the collection, Salman tussles with his own despair on one hand, contemplating delicate filaments of hope on the other. Yet in Kashmir, the desire to renounce life is overthrown by the gentle promise of verse, corroding disillusionment. 

Salman’s style brings to mind the pruned styling of William Carlos Williams, who wrote in “Plain American to use a phrase from Marianne Moore. ‘No ideas but in things,’ he proclaimed. In succinct, often witty poems, he presents common objects or events – a red wheelbarrow, a person eating plums – with freshness and immediacy, enlarging our understanding of what a poem’s subject matter can be” (

Though Salman’s range of literary references is rich and diverse, his deliberate brevity of syntax is refreshing and promises to draw in a variety of readers. The colloquial poem can be precarious to master; one of its few notable practitioners was the lauded Robert Frost.

As poet Patrick Gillespie noted in an essay, “Robert Frost became the unrivaled Twentieth Century master of the colloquial. Frost, through skill, genius or sheer determination, dispensed with any metrical concessions. His verse is free of grammatical inversions, syncope, elision or any of the other metrical concessions. And there are no wasted words – words merely to pad the meter. His colloquial phrases strain the meter (and he was criticised for it even by his students – Robert Francis). But nonetheless, he mastered both the demands of formal poetry and colloquial sense and discursiveness – the halting, digressive, deliberative and informal pattern of our daily talk.” (From Vernacular, Colloquial, Common, Dialectal by Patrick Gillespie)

Colloquialism in poetry does not by any means diminish its capacity for beauty. In one of the most touching poems in the collection, Kashmir, Salman pens a heart rending tribute to Agha Shahid Ali, the Kashmiri American poet whose legacy is profound. Salman writes, “They’ve turned your poems into trees/ That grow and grow/ Bigger than tyranny’s Stygian shadow/ Greener than a mother’s love for a blind son/ Laden with sweet promises/ Comforting/ Like the shawls made in paradise on earth / Your paradise.”

The reader will understand the subtext immediately. Shahid Ali’s trees have been bloodied, his home has been bloodied, but his wondrous perpetuating verse blooms, unsullied. His verses are trees, like the trees of Elysium, which provide fragrant shade to those who care to visit.

Throughout the collection, Salman tussles with his own despair on one hand, contemplating delicate filaments of hope on the other. Yet in Kashmir, the desire to renounce life is overthrown by the gentle promise of verse, corroding disillusionment.


Author: Peerzada Salman

Publisher: The Little Book Company, 2024

Pages: 65

Price: Rs 400

The reviewer is a columnist and a senior contributing editor at The Aleph Review

The colloquial poem