Having read Sophia Naz’s earlier work, it’s a delight seeing how in Open Zero (Yoda Press), she continues to navigate along language and sound by bringing her personal reflections on what constitutes “nothing”, or everything, for that matter. Her multilingual ease of capturing images is sharpened by the essence she gathers from her current location in California, US, and from the home that is both past and present – the Indian subcontinent.

Language is explosive, if one were to regard lines in Open Zero – mostly short and pithy except in a couple of places where long prose lines show the intensity of longing and pain, erupting in strident images. The glottal and glide phonemes encapsulate the horror of war and detention, the sorrow of migration and memory.

Guantanamo of your immigrant throat
ghain & qâf suffocate, refuse
to give up the ghost 

— “Bera-gharq/Shipwreck”

The near-pervading staccato rhythm in this book matched by the poet’s restless documenting is punctuated by a little tribute to her mother, whom Naz addresses as “Bia”. Here all frenetic actions cease to exist, what remains is mediation and music.

I still see her there
mull, mull, mull
her beads far too slow
for alhamdulillah

— “Mull”

Naz’s poetry is a “Nothing Bird”, the one that hovers over everything under the sun, making us aware of looming existential crises. In this world, civilisational anxiety is only natural; “experiencing nothingness” makes one conscious of the “Zero”.

This book is a strong proclamation and assertion of the feminine self. She exhorts the Kinnari, Lilith, Gaia, the bird-woman, in pain and pleasure, mirroring the movement and rise of language as a body, a feminine realisation, for “What is a nail compared to the pangs of birth?”

Reading through the saga of women’s desire and drive, the political climate of our nations, and the indefatigable call to be heard, it’s only natural that Naz would want to have her poetry address the violence directly:

Some days I’m seized
by the irrational desire to be a goddess
it doesn’t matter what stripe
Lilith or Kali
any badass Medusa will do
to m/end their ways, make morsels
of beastly, priestly pedophiles 

— “If I Were a Goddess”

These “morsels” are exactly what will fill up the “emptiness” or the void. Naz’s poetic arc carries along the beauty and power of the zero, sifr, cipher, yolk, and the sun – all culminating into forming a cosmic allusion of metaphors in this book. It is Zero that is “open” and endless, unlimited transporting the reader to a zone s/he will cultivate through the syntax – a sort of a Harry Potteresque “portkey” – in effect, “a bridge to know where you hang by a thread of sunlight”.

In the introduction to her poems in a recent issue of The Punch Magazine, Naz said, “It is perhaps because I relate poetry to movement that I primarily conceive my poems while walking. I might say lines in my head, or out loud if no one is near, or record them on my phone. I consider the unique breath-signature of a poem as its ‘bone,’ the scaffolding upon which its length and breadth rests.”

The movement in Open Zero is soft, stealthy, and gossamer. Swinging, treading, spreading, enveloping, light-flight-traversing, and finally, weaving – the Arachne archetype of Sophia Naz’s poetry silks itself and the readers, if that verb form can be used to capture the delicate craft of the poet. It transfers the idea of the poetic to an “I-dea”, the dream merging with poetic reality:

Have I dreamt Arachne or has Arachne woven me? Have we each dreamt the other, a mirroring gossamer spinning still? 

— “The Mirroring Gossamer”

In the same introduction Naz says, “Shifting the lens through which I view English has freed me to experiment with the architecture of a poem. This could include the use of bilingual homonyms that serve to decolonize English by inserting hidden subtexts in poems intelligible only to those who are both desi and anglophone, or breaking up the uniformity of the language by infusing it with the sonic and linguistic richness of Urdu and Hindi.”

Naz indeed holds in her pen patterns of words and syllables in the linguistic tradition of portmanteau and semantic tropes – a trick only magicians and wordsmiths have mastered till date, in singular acts of decolonisation. The sour-sweet doors of discovery – “Khara-dar, Mitha-dar” – are for the readers to open and cross for enriching their senses.

round and round and no-
where to go
empty clock hands

ate by eight by nine
a life, time no longer
on my side

— “Holding Pattern”

Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad.

Open Zero

Open Zero, Sophia Naz, Yoda Press.