Rajah debuts with a powerful collection of poetry that toes the line between lyrical artistry and complete and utter nonsensical peculiarity.
In the midst of an existential crisis, poet and author, Sen Rajah stumbles blindly and emotionally empty into the world of Milk of the Moon. At a point when he has almost entirely lost any sense of self, this bright, young, tragic girl whispers her stories to him, weaving a tale as melodious as it is sad. Through her visits and comfort Rajah finds his way back, unfortunately by the time he recovers Milk is gone, leaving behind only fragments of her story.
The exhibition contained within these pages is part memoir, part poetry and part something entirely new. It explores themes of otherness and rootlessness, the colonialism of language and many more themes associated with being “a person without a country”. Each piece resonates with feeling, abstract and allusive, they beckon you to engage, not just to observe, but immerse yourself and read the artist, for as Milk of the Moon says, “only in the act of interpretation do any of us exist.”
I am going to have to admit that reading Sen Rajah’s Milk of the Moon was quite an exhaustive experience. It proved to be incredibly powerful, eye-opening and tragic but also innocent-like and hopeful. There can be no doubt that Rajah has talent; he writes as though he was born with a pen in his hand and paper at his side. His use of symbolism, metaphors and language itself, really opens the reader to a different reality. Before one is to read this though, you have to understand that this poetry collection is technically an installation piece; so it is a form of art. Actually, the first few pages of the book itself demonstrates how the installation piece would look like, with a map of how one would navigate the pieces of poetry. I found this concept quite innovative and intriguing which is why I feel as though it would be better suited to read this collection as it was meant to be displayed – thoughts to be experienced as reality.
Upon the first reading, I asked myself, who is Milk? Rajah emphasises that this book is a curated collection written in fragments by the figure of Milk. From what I understand, Milk is both apart and within Rajah. Milk is Rajah and Rajah is Milk and I think Milk came about through Rajah’s psychosis; in that, Milk is the anger, the trauma, the anxiety and the depression of his past. Milk is the fragmented and abstract articulation of Rajah’s emotional and psychological vulnerability. In this sense, it honestly is such a unique reading experience because the poetry is coming not from Rajah but from him through a mediator who can piece together his journey.
The writing itself is beautiful, but it is written from the perspective of Milk, a figment of Rajah’s psychosis, I am still assuming. As a result, it is extremely abstract and challenging to decipher; to the point, where I had to continually re-read stanzas just to attempt to understand what it was trying to say. It is written more of a stream of consciousness and as such, it can be disorientating as the reader, since it can be quite obscure and surrealist. But I believe that this way of writing was completely purposeful and deliberate.
Think about it.
The figure of Milk is just that, obscure and surreal. Through her and through her fragmented language and imagery, we are welcomed onto the journey of self-discovery but also an acknowledgement of personal trauma, the generational impact of colonialisation and so much more. It is raw and undignified because Milk is inelegant with her brutal honesty – but there is such a beauty to it. Because of this, it took me quite a while to be able to sit down and write this review, purely because I had no idea what I felt and how to articulate this strange and confused feeling within me. All I can say is that, regardless of how befuddled this collection made me feel, its allusive nature engages you to interpret the work based on what you feel. There is more of an emotionality in how you are supposed to engage with the content; as if intellectual understanding is not the priority but how the poetry and its narrative engages you on an emotional level.
Milk of the Moon is a raw and unique collection of work that shows the depth of talent and creativity of its author and curator, Sen Rajah. I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars, only because I did feel as through the abstract nature of it, at times, did not fully engage me to the extent that I wanted it to.
About the Author:
Sen Rajah is a man without a country. He fled a civil war at the age of five and grew up in an environment as empty as his history. He is a nomad. His writing has more in common with abstract art than literature as it’s commonly understood. Manipulating language to fit images, distorting structure to find form, his writings are installation pieces, thoughts to be experienced as physical reality.
He freely admits that his work isn’t for everyone, unshackled from history, he feels that he is free to create a form that is unfettered by the rules and conventions that have evolved over time. He believes that writing should always be pushing at the boundaries of what can be said, discovering new ways of thinking, showing the infinitely many ways that a person can be a person.
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