The challenge in writing about Anis Shivani’s work is that there is so much one could write about and there are so many portals through which one can enter and access Shivani’s labyrinthian intellectual and emotional corridors. If you are a vocal passenger traveling through Shivani’s tightly knitted, poetic, and semiotic avalanche of quirky images, what is Shivani asking you to say, to speak? Will Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish speak back to us, as if to engage in a one-sided conversation with us? Or will the speaker resort to silence, which is the mother of the Hashish experience, which is the text Shivani has birthed for us? Not from the mouth of nihilism, or Nietzsche, or the Enlightenment. Will you resort to “germinal silence”? Is this prolific critic, poet, and novelist asking us to be “brave assassins stabbing in the dark,” or is he asking us to be a noun, a psychoactive resin? The hashish of the hashish. Is the assassin the narcotic or is it us, the readers, wanting the second person singular “you” to bend backward into time where we can stuff the stuffs of good and evil together in the sack of words which comprise this collection?
From then on, whatever pulls itself out of the linguistic sack of good and evil becomes Shivani’s poems. Or does he wish us to immorally vacillate and lubricate between sex and intellect as seen in his poem with the heavily alliterated “W” title, “Without Which He Would Not Have Written His Greatest Poems.” Which part of our intellectual and emotional or psychedelic impulses does he wish to engage? Or not at all – since Originality is dead or potentially dead. When creativity is dead, let nothing produce more of nothing. Or, in reading Shivani’s hashishlike language, am I “the glamorous wom[a]n of Alexandria” who has founded “the best reference library” in Shivani’s second collection of conversationally enhanced poems. So when we read Shivani’s poems, we are asking ourselves if we are capable of being the Library of Congress. We face an enormous task. We can’t bundle Shivani’s words together like sticks and branches. There are over 100 pages of these steam engines of words. We can’t begin to pin down his sonnets. Perhaps, according to Shivani, the best poet removes himself entirely from the page and allows Hashish and the reader to coexist, to co-mingle, to get high on a voice together.
My mother said that if you get someone drunk, you can pull the truth out of them. Has Shivani, in writing this collection, pulled the truth from the mouth of the cosmos? Or the silence between two juxtaposed words? In Shivani’s poetic world, a world antipode to his decade-in-the making My Tranquil War, he is asking us to put down this war and to embrace another. The logic of not thinking. To embrace the emotional and intellectual content of our existence and to let the content of civilization and historic time, philosophical time, linguistic time, and manic time wash through us. Shivani has also invented an entire literary civilization using the imaginary autobiographical portraits of luminary figures, some dead and some alive. When Shivani writes this collection, he is adding another layer, a thick layer, of the collective consciousness on our already overabundant collective consciousness, monitored by Apple and Google and Pharmacology, as if the brain of existence needs to wear a Shivani-woven hat on its head – because the Winter of this lonely world is cold, so cold; a Shivani’s hat, a collective consciousness will keep us warm, not only in the Spring, but in the Summer too where the breeze can be a small knife that pierces the soft flesh of our gullet and cut the wind out of us and abandon us to the willow trees where we won’t be able to worship found poetry or loneliness. Here, google sculpted, Shivani writes, “Only boxers understand the loneliness/ of tennis players, maybe we were meant to be/ lonely, maybe we were meant to be on our own.”
Perhaps in our pugilistic loneliness, when we finally find ourselves entering one of Shivani’s psyche-based corridors using an Edwardian electrical cord, we find that it is an endless cul-de-sac that exists at the abyss of Shivani’s logic. No doubt, “your art is nostalgia observed in pearlescent hierarchies,” and no doubt, “you can do this in America/ dress yourself in a drugstore from head to toe.” And, no doubt, you will find Sappho, Rilke, Gertrude, Badaro, Nietzsche, Bardot, Toibin, Radhabinod Pal, your dreams in Shivani’s poems and maybe you will agree with Shivani that “poems are esthetecologically harmless and psychodegradable.” Maybe you won’t agree with him and will convert yourself into midgets, “conquering cornmeal police on ice.” But, whatever you do, go to your next drug dealer, BlazeVOX, and order yourself some Shivani poetic hashish for your aristocratic heart made of butterblue taffeta and lantern of subtleties.