Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods: Tishani Doshi, Bloodaxe

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Poet, novelist and dancer Tishani Doshi is of Welsh-Gujarati descent. Born in Madras, she received her Masters in writing from Johns Hopkins University in America, worked in London in advertising and then returned to India to work with the choreographer Chandralekha appearing on many international stages. She has won an Eric Gregory award for her poetry, and her debut collection Countries of the Body won the Forward prize for best first collection. Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods is her third collection and carries with it a Poetry Book Society recommendation for summer 2018.

This volume of 41 poems is divided into four sections that are roughly equal with an opening and closing poem acting as a bookend. Glancing through the contents page, Doshi has a flair for penning an eye-catching title: (‘Considering Motherhood While Falling Off a Ladder in Rome,’ ‘My Grandmother Never Ate a Potato in Her Life,’ and ‘Your Body Language is not Indian! or, Where I Am Snubbed at a Cocktail Party by a Bharatanatyam Dancer’ are just a few examples).

In keeping with the general tone, some titles are also unsettling - ‘Pig-killing in Viet-Hai,’ ‘Everyone Loves a Dead Girl,’ and ‘The View From Inside My Coffin’, a poem inspired by a news story about how South Koreans are combating suicide rates with coffin therapy.

Several poems in this collection give the impression that Doshi is trying too hard to shock. Such an approach detracts from, rather than reinforces, the subject matter. The opening poem ‘Contract’ gives us an insight into what to expect:

 

     Dear Reader

     I agree to turn my skin inside out,

     to reinvent every lost word, to burnish,

     to steal, to do what I must

     in order to singe your lungs.

 

This is overkill. ‘Abandon,’ on the other hand, is well-crafted. Here Doshi succeeds by using simple language effectively. For me, it is the most powerful poem in the book.

As a poet, Doshi finds inspiration in the most unlikely, and sometimes unsavoury, of places. In ‘Calcutta Canzone’ she writes: “As a poet I worship at the feet of decay, / … all this is poetry / to me!” In  ‘How to be Happy in 101 Days’ she advises us to

 

     … Set out into

     the world and prepare to be horrified.

     Do not close your eyes. Catch a fish.

     Smash its head and watch the life gasp

     out of it. Spit the bones into the sand.

     Offer your bones to someone.

 

Other poems, written in a lighter vein, show Doshi at her best. ‘O, Great Beauties!’ is a gem, as is the humorous poem addressed to her first white hairs. There is also much to admire in the ingenuity of ‘Encounters with a Swedish Burglar’. 

‘Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods’ is very much a book that is of our time.

 

     … Girls are coming

     out of the woods, lifting

     their broken legs high, leaking secrets

     from unfastened thighs, all the lies

     whispered by strangers, and swimming coaches,

     and uncles, especially uncles,

     who said spreading would be light

     and easy, who put bullets in their chests

     and fed their pretty faces to fire,

     who sucked the mud clean

     off their ribs, and decorated

     their coffins with briar.

 

If you are someone “who longs to run into the eye of the storm”, this book may be for you.

 

Tishani Doshi, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Bloodaxe, £9.95

 

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