Getting to grips with memory in Wings of Smoke: Dave Mann reviews Jim Pascual Agustin’s new collection
There are moments in Jim Pascual Agustin’s latest collection that will test both mind and memory and, really, that’s what makes it so good.
Titled Wings of Smoke, the collection comprises 41 poems spread across four parts and features both new and previously published works by the Philippines-born, Cape Town-based writer and translator.
To take a leisurely read through Agustin’s works is no easy task. His writing is the kind that encourages you to stop and consider what you have just read, and in this way, you’ll find yourself combing through the same lines and picking out newer and more complex treasures each time. This is not to say that a cursory read of Wings of Smoke isn’t possible. Rather, it’s a flexible read – you pick it up and take what you want from it.
Structurally, Agustin’s collection is considerate. There are small poems early on, such as ‘Pause’ and ‘Midnight Bugs’ that read like exercises in the senses, full of new smells, tastes, and sounds. Pieces such as ‘Unbearable’, also early on in the collection, play around with space and movement so viscerally and succinctly that you’ll need to backtrack a good few times in order to grab hold of the piece in its entirety.
In the sections that follow, you’ll traverse the ephemeral and intangible, the humorous, the horrific, the political, and even a touch of the lyrical. Read in succession, the poems tend to dart from tone to tone, almost intentionally cutting the tension between each other, rather than expanding upon any singular, thematic thread. Pieces such as ‘Armed Response’ for example, with its somewhat reflexive and cheeky take on suburban living, come just before the painfully visceral ‘Red Letter’.
Altogether, Wings of Smoke reads like a spell of nostalgia or recollection – (Ten. Or nine. / Memory plays with me. / Stillness was a butterfly carefully settling on skin.) – the way a sound or smell may break the floodgates on a set of memories, or how a dream you don’t remember having will revisit you the following afternoon. Agustin’s writing is sharp and measured, each line plump with thought and vivid remembrance, relentless in its delivery, but light enough in its form to keep you pressing on, keenly.
- Wings of Smoke by Jim Pascual Agustin
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