A review of How Beautiful People Are by Ayaz Pirani

Reviewed by Maureen Alsop

In How Beautiful People Are
by Ayaz Pirani
Gordon Hill Press
ISBN: 9781774220504, Paperback, 100 pages, 20th February 2022

“There is no road to my village” Ayaz Pirani writes in his recent collection, How Beautiful People Are. If the village is Pirani’s soul, his poems are given for the reader’s mapping of an ineffable topography. The poems are an offering of ancestral and interpersonal geography, where each poem is an opportunity for a reader to hold the compass of a mystic and to discover a path. Pirani’s poetry asks the reader to come seeking, to gaze deeper into universal connection, and to immerse oneself in the human question of spirit. 

Most of the poems in the collection are brief, written in couplets, spacious and often segmented. Though the collection is three sections, the cohesion of voice and style bend into an aesthetic consistency as if the whole of the collection is a seamless poem. Consequently, the form creates a statement on the sanctity of continuity, resolution, reflecting poetry as a devotional practice, an anchor among life’s faltering equilibriums and dispersals. 

In the title poem, in the last section of the book, subtitled, “Kabir’s Loneliness” Pirani writes:

It’s a wonder
how beautiful people are.
They are in themselves
like the shade or the sun
or the moonlight that
makes a regular person briefly
know how beautiful people are. …

A preternatural intelligence is required to understand the complexity of beauty and to hold beauty with reverence and respect for objectivity. Pirani gives depth to these contemplations as well as to the practice of observation. The poem investigates a balance between what is and what is observed. The reflection and mergence between the viewer and the viewed arrives at the crossroad of what may quickly be lost. There exists through Pirani’s poetry, a hope for a peace-infused pulchritude. This vision exists as a distant restlessness, an anticipation that even if what is sought may not be revealed, a reward exists, intrinsically through the effort of discovery. What is beauty and who does it belong to? Whose soul is to be observed and from what angle may beauty “briefly” surface? Beauty is being—if one can observe it with awareness. Pirani’s poems are observant. These are spiritual poems, and intimate. Pirani softly asks questions of the reader. It is as if Pirani shares the answers to secret questions, but pauses to determine if anyone else interprets the question. Through this craft, Pirani offers the reader the opportunity for a relationship with a greater pattern. It is a pattern he is willing to unveil, a pattern of intricate complexity, a pattern aware of consciousness and the origin of consciousness. 

In the poem “Kabir’s Loneliness,” he writes “No one breaks up with doubt. /I’m led by an unattached hand.” An unattached hand, a hand of spirits or a hand of freedom. Perhaps the attentive reader guides the narrator to that dimension of home. Home, what is that place? It is as if repetitions in loneliness dissolve as loneliness questions the repetitions. What it means to feel lonely. How is it that we touch another and another touches us. Where do we learn the imprint. How is it felt.

The influence of Kabir (1440-1518), a spiritual freethinker, provides an insight to the depth of Pirani’s meditations, writing process and touchstones. Kabir’s poetry and philosophies hold conversation not only with the poems in How Beautiful People Are, but in the oeuvre and ars poetic of Pirani’s work. In Kabir’s poem, “Are you Looking for Me” he wrote: “When you really look for me, you will see me instantly –/you will find me in the tiniest house of time.” Kabir’s philosophy, a contemplative guide for purposeful living, resonates with Pirani’s thematic expression of living through obscurity. Pirani’s earlier collection of poem’s Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets, he writes:

I’ll put my head 
in the lion’s mouth
while you wander the forest 
where consciousness was born. 
This image is repeated in How Beautiful People Are: 
My head is in the lion’s mouth. 
How long do I wait by this page?
No flag for the undiscovered country.
It is better to be lost than found.

The symbolism of the lion has a range of interpretations. To place one’s head in the lion’s mouth, is to pressure the danger, to take a risk, to let go of life unperturbed with grit and with stillness… a magician’s trick? A gladiator’s act? Imperialism’s reign of colonial sovereignty? Capitalism’s tyranny as citizenry?

How Beautiful People Are, is a quiet exploration of how beauty exists within displacement and disembodiment. Perhaps we find beauty that is grotesque, or that beauty brings the grotesque to solitude. 

Above all, Pirani’s poetry is a revelatory beauty. 

If we, as humans on earth, are to work on interpersonal and communal transformation, it is the task of the self, as the task of the soul, to embrace the unseen, aversive, ingenious dust-bunnies crowding our vision. It is our job to move forward into graciousness. As we progress, we carry with us our unconscious shadows and flaws, not as a trail of accident or incident, but with compassion to embrace all that is. It is our duty to flex our capacity, and to understand the whole of one another in beauty. Such beauty may be purity, it may be vanity, it may be sacrosanct, or may be vile. We must be prepared for its form no matter how evaporative and transparent.

About the reviewer: Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of Pyre; Later, Knives & Trees; Mirror Inside Coffin; Mantic; Apparition Wren (also a Spanish Edition, Reyezuelo Aparición, translated by Mario Domínguez Parra); and several chapbooks. She is the winner of the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award through the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, Harpur Palate’sMilton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. Her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prize on six occasions. Her poems have appeared in various journals including The Laurel Review, AGNI, Blackbird, Tampa Review, DIAGRAM, Action Yes, Drunken Boat, Memorious, The Kenyon Review, Typo Magazine and featured on Verse Daily. Her translations of the poetry of Juana de Ibarbourou (Uruguay, 1892-1979) and Mario Domínguez Parra are available through Poetry Salzburg Review. She teaches online with the Poetry Barn. She is a Book Review Editor and Associate Poetry Editor at Poemeleon. She holds a MFA from Vermont College.