Isobel Roach reviews A God at the Door the poetry collection by Tishani Doshi, published by Bloodaxe Books.
“Anyone who believes a leaf is just a leaf is missing the point.”
So begins ‘Mandala’, the opening poem of Tishani Doshi’s collection, A God at the Door. Setting the tone for the poetry to come, this introductory piece is emblematic of Doshi’s interest in the symbolism and power of the natural world – as well as our place within it. At once universal and intensely personal, A God at the Door is a beautifully written collection of work from a poet who is confident in the strength of her voice. Amidst delicate imagery of animals, landscapes, and the cosmos, there is a quiet fury at the heart of Doshi’s poetry which makes lends it resonance. A God at the Door stays with you; it is a book designed to be reflected on, and Doshi is unafraid of harsh truths and deep introspection.
Creation stories proliferate the pages of this collection. Endings and beginnings are considered alongside each other with ‘one face to the womb, another to the future’ as Doshi weaves together her own personal mythos of rebirth and survival. In A God at the Door, nature is a tool for understanding ourselves and our place in the world. The poet aligns herself with nature, using it as a tool to explore the wonders of femininity and the dangers of being born a woman. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the poem ‘A Possible Explanation as to Why We Mutilate Women & Trees, which Tries to End on a Note of Hope’; here Doshi’s righteous, feminist anger (‘Motherfucker, are you listening?’) is coupled with an understanding of the duty of care we owe the natural world (‘How could it be said that they invite the knife, the way ten million trees invite a massacre’). Many of the poems in the collection share this ecological perspective, and Doshi’s skill at crafting impactful turns of phrase is put to good use. The finale of ‘Species’, for instance, is unflinching and powerful; ‘We should have learned from the grass, humble in its abundance, offering food and shelter wherever it spread. Instead, we stamped our feet like gods, marvelling at the life we made, imagining all of it to be ours’.
Equally as impactful is the collection’s exploration of what it means to exist as a woman in an overwhelmingly – and often violently – misogynistic world. Doshi is no stranger to this subject matter; the title poem of her 2017 collection Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods made such a splash that the book went on to be shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry (2018). A God at the Door has its fair share of powerful feminist poetry, seen at its finest in works like ‘After a Shooting in a Maternity Clinic in Kabul’ and ‘I Found a Village and in it Were All our Missing Women’ – both of which are important reads. But there is also a playfulness to Doshi’s politics, and poems like ‘Why the Brazilian Butt Lift Won’t Save Us’ is as entertaining as it is grim; the satirical image of ‘Kim Kardashian’s ass rising like a mountain out of the Atlantic’ is one this reader won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Other timely concerns make their presences felt in Doshi’s work, with thoughtful and emotive discussions of displacement, war, and political upheaval. There is a beautiful use of language even in these darkest of poems, and Doshi writes eloquently of the plight of refugees; ‘Maybe we could give them wristbands or pin yellow stars to their tails. Maybe we should build fences or draw crosses on the wing-like doors of their tents?’ With her signature eloquence, Doshi crafts bold and fearless poetry that leaves readers contemplating it for days to come. A God at the Door gives voices to those who need them most and dares to speak of the unspeakable.
A God at the Door by Tishani Doshi is available via Bloodaxe Books.