Local author Sophia Naz publishes new book of poetry
Poet, author, editor, translator, and artist Sophia Naz has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize; in 2016 for creative nonfiction and in 2018 for poetry. Open Zero, Naz’s fourth collection of poetry, was written after she lost her Warm Springs Road home in the 2017 wildfires.
Priceless heirlooms, some from the Mughal era, musical instruments, her artworks, handwritten poetry journals kept since Naz’s teens, slide film photographs, library items, and textiles, as well as four decades of her filmmaker husband’s documentary film footage and the magnificent old trees surrounding her home, were all destroyed in the blaze.
Yet from this devastation Naz birthed a magnificent phoenix. Open Zero offers a visceral close-up look of the stark ground realities of loss and acts as a springboard for Naz to rip the scabs off systemic scars: the ravages of rapacious capitalism on a fragile planet; issues of racism, identity, and violence perpetrated upon people of color in her adopted home; the rise of authoritarianism, and the ongoing erasure of a syncretic culture in the lands of her birth; and the battles for women’s rights in the face of persistent sexism.
Bereft of a brick-and-mortar home, Naz uses language to resurrect diverse and disappearing habitats.
In the process she weaves unlikely yet compelling connections: Endangered native species of California and ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley, myth and history, and Alexander the Great and the RV repairman, all live cheek by jowl on these pages.
In the introduction to this collection, Naz reflects on the wildfires that burned her home to the ground, leaving behind an absence that eventually gives presence to her poetry. She writes that “Shunya, the Sanskrit word for zero, comes from the root śvi, meaning ‘hollow.’ It was the ancient Indian idea to place a value on this void.”
In “After, Math” she describes the experience in vivid, poetic detail: Char
as far as the eye can roam sinew of auburn manzanitas burned and hacked to pieces reel after reel you can’t unsee the forest’s death, a silent movie plays on, the orchestra a hollow pump, fist of an organ, thumping on and on you walk, to the top Naz’s poetry finds a confident voice in the confluence of cultures and languages that influence her. The shunya in her introduction foreshadows many more multilingual concepts to come, as she mixes English with Urdu and Hindi/Sanskrit. The “foreign” words aren’t just window-dressing in poems, but a part of its very essence. In the aptly titled “Mother Tongues,” she weaves poetry in the gaps between these languages, imagining a “sanctum sanctorum womb of wombs / mother tongues ferment,” and then: “Ma, mother of memory, heal me / unmake my prosaic days of bricks / troll bhooths, (bhooth is an evil spirit) malware, endless phishes.”
All the while, a soft sense of musicality provides the backbone to Naz’s linguistic experiments.
Through her verse, Naz has the ability to animate and inanimate her subject in the very same breath, to observe the world around her as standing still while also being in rapid motion, loaded with both a static and a kinetic energy. These poems are dense with wordplay, multiple entendre, and musicality. But most of all, they leave the reader with a specific sense of duality, of being fulfilled, and yet being filled with more absences.
Open Zero, published by Yoda Press, was released in September 2021 and is available at Readers Books in Sonoma or on Naz’s website, www.sophianaz.com.