Book Review: The Flayed City by Hari Alluri

The Flayed City by Hari Alluri

Kaya Press, 2017

Review by Jenny Minniti-Shippey

 

“Give ear to the low hum in in the trees / outside yourself,” writes poet Hari Alluri in the opening section of his new collection, The Flayed City. And give ear the poems do, to the music of the natural world and the music of the made world, the “crew, swervy,” howling to the moon above the city.

In this ambitious book, Alluri listens for a multiplicity of voices; “a contraband tongue stands for an anthem”—that contraband tongue could be any language, just as the city itself has no name. The speaker of the poems moves between cultures, borders, each poem a little world peopled with universal yet specific beings—an uncle pavement-sweeper, the beloved crew and their permutations, an auntie who hears these words as confessions. And always the speaker, on the move, collecting “yet another accent to falter every couple years.”

In Alluri’s capable hands, words twist, thump, shift and break, make a music from multilingual “speech in the silence dirt bahala na surrendering silence” and from the juxtaposition of “motherfuck those days, he said, those days of my deepest belief in God.” The sacred and the profane hold hands in these poems, wander the streets. There’s violence to be found, and love, and an abiding, intimate awareness of how our made world shapes our lives—how our languages can shape our lives.

In the best of these poems, metaphor and music unite in a way that is deeply joyful, even when wrestling with pain: “Grief swagger and fandangle in my step upon these streets. I see the dust, and the dust hungers.” A moving collection, with new pleasures to be discovered with each reading.

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