Sharp Blue Search of Flame
Poems by Zilka JosephAward Winner
Pages: 128 Size: 6x9
Sharp Blue Search of Flame is an exploration in poetry of a complex network of nuanced journeys into a variety of worlds. The searingly rich poems reflect Zilka Joseph’s own history of living in Eastern and Western cultures, as well as the influences of her Jewish Indian roots. Joseph’s free verse and forms shift scenes from the real to the imagined landscapes of the mind, and search for fulfillment and solace amidst the terrifying beauty and chaos of the human condition.
Joseph’s poems, while dark and brooding in subject matter—bride burnings and infanticide in her native country, the loss of Eden, mourning for a beloved mother—offer a tactile insight into life in India and the United States. Through a flurry of sounds and smells, the reader learns an interpretation of the history of the sari, witnesses the horror of attacks on women, and wrestles with death, whether it be that of an elephant, an extinct frog, honey bees, humans, or goddesses. Her poems dig deep and aspire for something beyond. Colored by fire, blood, ash, and rain, these poems present images of great joy and deep loss in a complex harmony.
Sharp Blue Search of Flame embraces worlds within worlds and worlds between worlds, which is not only intrinsic to the fabric of the poems but to the life of the poet as well. Readers of poetry will savor this sensory collection.
Rich with the scents and sounds and colors of her native Kolkata, Zilka Joseph’s poetry is also haunted: by the real and imagined violence of the world, by the losses entailed in migration, by the loved ones left behind. Deeply felt and lushly rendered, these poems weave a tapestry of sorrow and celebration, tenderness and outrage, bodily longing and bodily vulnerability. A book as searching as its title. And in flame.
– Linda Gregerson
A cause for rejoicing among true lovers of poetry, Sharp Blue Search of Flame is a rich gathering by a genuinely gifted poet, blessed with a voice that is all at once ancient and modern and redolent with fabulous surprises.
– Lorna Goodison, poet
Zilka Joseph writes vivid, sensuous, eloquent poems from a world of dual cultures, India where she was born, and America where she now makes her home. Hindu festivals, epic heroes, the natural surroundings of Garuda, King of Birds and cosmic mythology mix in with airports, skycaps, Bob Dylan, Beatles on 45s, immigrant loneliness and a classic Christian night prayer. Her’s is a delicate eye tracing fish, birds and flowers, yet a sense of adventure prevails in her long lines as they leap across the page, giving us a sense of fearlessness that makes Joseph an especially enticing poet. I look forward to reading more of her zestful work.
– Colette Inez, author of The Luba Poems
Sharp Blue Search of Flame is a collection of poems that reminds us, with every syllable and every line, that both the spiritual and, dare I say, the carnal can reside together sublimely. In a world in which we have to ask, daily, ‘What do you want? To be God, man, or beast?’ Zilka Joseph teaches us that we find each inside every one of us, and they all hold some beauty, particularly in her masterful hands. She asks, ‘Can our whirring hearts hold steady?’ But how can we, faced with so much truth along this journey?
– A. Van Jordan
It’s a dark collection that broaches difficult subjects (e.g. infanticide, bride burnings, etc.), but that’s no reason to turn away from them.
– Aaron Robertson, Metro Times -- 2016 Summer Reading List
If the American critic Stephen Burt’s precepts for reading new poetry—look for a persona and a world, not for an argument or a plot—are to be heeded, then Zilka Joseph’s first book eminently meets those criteria. In addition to a distinct persona inhabiting a world of dual cultures, Joseph also makes an argument.
– Saleem Peeradina, World Literature in Review
This collection is remarkable with its breadth and enchanting language, encapsulating the boundaries--artificial and
real--of life in India and the United States.
– Juliana Roth, Pulp
The poems in Zilka Joseph’s [first] book, Sharp Blue Search of Flame, sear with poignant images and brilliant diction. Whether she’s reinventing myths from Jewish and Hindu Indian culture or commenting on the contemporary American scene, this poet speaks with the authority of lived wisdom. The range of experiences she captures spans from physical pain to erotic joy. Though troubling, even terrifying at times, this world we inhabit still holds great beauty, Joseph insists.
– John Freeman, Michigan Bookmark via Stateside with Cynthia Canty on Michigan Public Radio
Zilka Joseph's poetry collection is yet another unforgettable debut suffused with gorgeous language, rich with the scents and sounds and colours of her native Kolkata, India. Joseph is a writer for the global age. In Sharp Blue Search of Flame she effortlessly traverses a wide array of cultures.
– Kelly Fordon, Wasafiri
In Zilka Joseph's poetry collection Sharp Blue Search of Flame, blessings and shadows sit side-by-side. These poems, drawn from Joseph's early life in India and later the American Midwest, seek the sacred in the world; they find their blessings not only in shrines or ceremonial flames but also in cups of tea and in human relationships [...]
– Jennifer Saunders, Dunes Review
Where Zilka Joseph excels is in her recording of family stories; the memories are photographic in their sharpness and unflinching in their revelations. She is equally adept in her handling of form to suit the needs of each poem. Altogether, a strong debut collection.
– Saleem Peeradina, World Literature Today
Immersive and evocative.
– Jyoti Bachani, India Currents Magazine
2016 AUPresses Book, Jacket & Journal Show Award - Result: Finalist for Poetry
Poetry reading at the Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival (October 2020)
Zilka Joseph at the Rasa Virtual Festival 2020 - Saturday 10/24/20 (reading starts at 51 minute mark)
Sharp Blue Search of Flame: A conversation with Zilka Joseph and Lolita Hernandez - Hatcher Gallery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI