Tariq Latif’s three previous Arc volumes have shown considerable dexterity over a variety of subject matters. The first of these is, clearly, that of what it means to be an Asian writer, writing in English in contemporary Britain. His last book, The Punjabi Weddings, noted some of the aftermath of the Rushdie affair. In the poem ‘Variations in History’, Latif contrasted, with real tact and delicacy, the Muslim book-burning which took place in Manchester, with the reactions of a Jewish onlooker. And the title poem riffed brilliantly off Larkin’s ‘Whitsun Weddings’.
This lovely new collection also deals with that subject matter. And Latif often uses food as a metaphor for describing and discussing how culture manifests itself. In Smithereens, the poem ‘College Road’ describes beautifully a family gathering in which the cooking appears to be undertaken by father and siblings. At the same time, one of the brothers, Amrish, is putting up a telescope to look at Saturn. The end of the poem brilliantly captures that both that trope and cooking, and uses a most adroit ‘surprise ending’ to indicate how ‘family’ might be constituted, ‘Rotis bend and fold like space…/ and though Amrish has not seen/ his father’s living face/ for a good few years, now sometimes in the stars’/ dreamy light, he hears his haunting voice,/ still calling him in for supper.’
Smithereens also contains some beautiful poems about the Scottish landscape. And the best of these offer moments of considerable delicacy, ‘the only prints// in the snow // are mine// the stag’s and// his light-footed doe’s.’ ‘Argyll Symphonia’. Elsewhere, these portraits of the landscape are yoked, in the manner of ‘College Road’ with surprising and poignant contrasts. In ‘Fractions’, Latif’s background in physics is used to point up the way landscape has its own vibration. That vibration might manifest in sound. But the poem finishes with something larger and more transcendent, ‘above my head the slight/ pressure of other presences/ living concurrently/ on the finer frequencies of light.’