Testimonials

A Rose

Karen Swenson

American poet and journalist

I was very affected by what you have to say in this book, particularly in those poems about Pakistan. They are a cry from your heart and you express your feelings with such gentleness that contrasts with the violence you are writing about, "delicate ideas like/ butterfly wings sitting in/ the cusp of the day...." I think we all need" A prayer to save us from ourselves...." Most certainly it is true that "It takes more courage to silence/ the barrel of a gun than to fire it." You voice the voice that is in so many of us.
I love it when you let your fancy fly in words, as in "Phantom" when "in the rose garden where clouds/hang from the roof and the sun/ runs away into another world." Your spiritual poems are as lovely as ever. I particularly liked "Night Star," "Your World" and "Snowball."

I n the writer’s career there are frequent lapses into a bold explicatory style that is very much rooted in the tradition of aphoristic wisdom and pithy foreclosures which appear to be both an artistic compulsion on the part of the writer, and a psychological need on the part of readers.
The collection Wet sun is enlivened by poems addressed to specific individuals , Kishwar Naheed, Bano Qudsia, where the directness of language, and an eye for dry, realistic detail give the writing a sharpness and flavor.
She asserts that women can no longer “be brow-beaten into subjugation or bondage” that they “have a voice and a claim, and must have the confidence to know their worth.” As a poet she gives voice to issues concerning women, including motherhood.
There is also more formal experimentation in the Wet Sun poems, with the poet later settling down to a confident, sedate, style. On the whole however, one feels that the poet is moving towards greater clarity and insight and that out of the disappointment and pain will come a resilience and dignity which characterizes the work of great women poets.

Wet Sun

Prof. Alamgir Hashmi

English poet of Pakistani origin

Dream & Reality

Muneeza Shamsie

Pakistani writer, critic, literary journalist, bibliographer and editor

M any of her poems reflect the inner and outer consciousness and are built of vivid, surreal images. The opening poem “Illusion” begins:
I reclined on the armchair of dreams
and the leaves beneath my feet
rustled and turned yellow to green
In the night, the ambulance breaks
the silence that we crave for
and in the afternoon sun.
all things seem Holy.
In this collection, the poet often contemplates life and death. A spiritual yearning runs through her work too. Several poems are clearly influenced by the oriental poetic tradition, in which the beloved is both lover and spiritual guide. Some such as "Unified Soul II' come together effortlessly as a cohesive whole, but others including "The Awaited One" and the "God" series require more subtlety and control.
"Nuclear star" is a particularly fine example of Henna’s eye for detail and her ability to link the physical and metaphysical. The poem knits together images of a Lahore’s intense summer sun and culminates with the lines:
I have seen your face in the sun,
your eyes drop into the sand at night
and tears form dew on cactus thorns.
The sun rises and sets for judgement
and twists the tail of time.
Many of her poems address environmental and political issues, including "The shrinking planet" and “National predicament"; while poems such as "A strange encounter", meditate upon the universe. The feminist consciousness has always permeated Henna Babar Ali's writing. In "Me and myself – woman" she gives voice to a woman's suppressed sense of self, while "Moon" subverts an old patriarchal image to reflect upon beauty and the concept of a woman on the moon.

S yeda Henna Babar Ali has been writing for over a decade and the poems are more forceful in their social commentary.
Henna either writes a highly subjective surreal style or one of pithy comment. A good example of the first is seen in,
"To Me":
woman,
in your frame I live.
somehow, tormented words
behead me.
i discover my body.
circle,
the moon in grass.
a line,
blood inflames.
Of the second, "Love" and "Education" would be complementary examples in terms of compactness as well as elaboration of a point. In poems like "The Past of Men and Women," "The Road," "The Past and Future," and "The Broken Mirror," she examines man-woman relationships of various types, in different modes, and she hs a searching eye for that which could but does not connect them. Love, compassion, and fellowship seem distinctly absent; happiness is sees as a sentiment to be dreamed about but neither allowed nor sought actively enough to be actually a possibility. Generally there is much energy despite the gloom. The energy flows freely into the writing.
Henna's awareness of the world around her is a positive aspect of the recent writing—in such poems as "United Europe." "Political Time." etc.—but her most well-achieved poems are those which concern the personal self in that the words have a more felt quality and the voice is agreeably direct. "Pregnancy", "Motherhood and Frustration", and "Dejection" are poems that attempt to think through the body and may well be the kind of poetry that will help develop a more particular kind of women’s poetry in Pakistan.

Midnight Dialogue

Shaista Sonnu

Syeda Henna Babar Ali has been writing for over a decade and the poems are more forceful in their social commentary

Luminous Path

Intizar Hussain

Pakistani writer of Urdu novels, short stories, poetry and nonfiction

I n fact the devotional poems, which form a major part of this collection and which, according to the poet, point to "her journey towards God," appear more meaningful when read in continuation of her love poems. When taken together these poems present an example of how a love experience transforms at times into a religious experience and how, in consequence, genuinely written love poems find their sublimation in devotional poetry. To be more precise, these delicately written poems tell the sad story of a forlorn soul, who being betrayed in her experience of love tries to find solace in the beneficent folds of that Supreme Being, who is always kind enough.
So it is not devotional poetry written in a traditional way. Being with God is the most wonderful feeling. Here is an attempt to express in words that most wonder feeling, which is nearer to a mystical experience. The expression is easy and simple. There seems to be no attempt to say things in a poetic way. This feeling has its own poetry. It doesn't stand in need of a cultivated poetic style.

H enna Babar Ali's poem 'Serenity' is a typical example of her inkling towards Sufism. She says God has made His special space in her, nurtures and surrounds her. In the process what people say matters little. In this regard Henna's poems are a way forward for the English speaking nations. And for those who are interested, it is easy to comprehend the substance in this language. Henna's poems have a Sufi touch in them, that are a source of soul searching for such people. In her poem 'Friendship and Unity' (page 127), she informs us that she did not realize when her love for God started. She expresses this bond as follows:
A Prayer To Pakistan
"The bonding links
Your soul to mine,
and mine to Yours
folds me in caring warmth
pampers and elates my spirit".
Henna gives all credit to Almighty God for His blessings and she possesses the sensitivity to express it as opposed to an ordinary person who only appreciates the beauty of God but is unable to express it.
The conclusion flows naturally as a small gesture of the Almighty making an ordinary person think about gratitude for mercy. It is God’s gift that a person whose mother tongue is not English has a natural and style where sentiments and emotions flow smoothly as seen is in Henna’s poetry. She has felt Allah’s spiritual presence umpteen times. In her poem titled 'Submission and Surrender5' she says
"Time and circumstance
force change and adjustments.
The path forward is
immensely beautiful
and captivating –
to know and be in
the presence of God.
Silence surrounds me
And I am lost in
The nothingness of existence.
Each moment
He changes me more
and more to make
me what He wants and wills.
I submit and surrender
each day to His command
His Will and, forget myself."

Luminous Path

Dr. Amjad Parvez

Pakistani engineer, writer, and a singer

To Discover The Unknown

Karen Swenson

American poet and journalist

I read straight through the book, To Discover The Unknown. It is so interesting how different this book is compared to your former book, The Luminous Path. You are so much more open and frank about your life. I particularly liked "Prayer Comfort" which is much more personal than anything I've read of yours. The poems on relatives are wonderfully touching. I like very much the poems on Pakistan and the one on Bhutto.
You have grown and changed beyond measure in these poems. I was amused to see that we have sparrows in Common. There are lively, vivid phrases throughout the book , "The cloud ate my dreams like a hungry crow, "or" I wake up in the arms of the day, "or" the hook of breath, "or" children throw stones to find the bottom of poverty, "the vortex of controversy, " day and night chase the tail of time, " and it goes on and on. You are much more politically daring than you once were.

H enna Babar Ali’s latest book of poetry titled, ‘Life’s Triangle,’ is a symbolism of earth, life and spirituality. In her poetic verses she embraces all these with her poignant, abstract expression. This book has been dedicated to her husband, Faisal Imam, encapsulating in it, memories that are embedded in her intimate association with him, spanning many years. She has come to terms with her loss in a resigned way, but the pain inevitably stays and becomes a part of her. She says, ’The pain of separation festers/within like a deep wound/lesions healing temporarily/when my eyes rest on you… Immersed in a stream of reminiscences, she states, “I find my eyes searching for another in the flowerbed of time/holding a torch/to find happiness in what we have/all have is one another/It is never easy to let go of a loved one as we gape into a yawning vacuum. She nurtures his memories that glisten with each passing time like archives embedded in time.
Henna is philosophical in her inner discourse with herself, sometimes soaring to spiritual sublimity and other times grounded in naked realism. This is a peculiar quality in her many poems, swinging between feelings of love and ecstasy and on the other side is cynicism and despair. She says, ’There is no room for truth/in your heart or mine/we live a lie each day. Her candor is touching. Then she goes on to say I the same poem, ‘We live for change/the essence of life/we, in each moment of life change.’ Here the mood has shifted, taken over by optimism, as if she is struggling to distract or veer her mind towards new possibilities. The flame of hope continues to fuel.
Henna has a poetic sensibility that dwells on many levels, shifting from different moods oftentimes capriciously swayed. Yet there is an earthiness that is the base of her persona. She says, ’Words courageously written/seldom lie about life/or are untruthful about reality/ what is – is what is not/shades of grey/layers and layers of fusion/Like a poet and writer, the search for truth and the inner meaning of life, even if veiled and subtle, remains to her of vital importance.
She internalizes her feelings, in a melancholy way when she says, ‘Something dies within/I am not the same/I search for truth/and discover lies.’ This is a woman struggling within to find a base, somewhere between dream and reality to sustain her, to give her solace, but it appears elusive. Many of us have experienced such phases in our lives, when at a particular juncture, in a crisis, we feel something within us dies and then we afterwards find ourselves reborn and recycled in another way. And then life goes on…
I like the poem, ‘Time.’ This is a reflection on time, the precious space given to us in the span of a lifetime, floating between the perimeters of life and death. She says, ‘All spheres of tie move in a synchronized/ flow towards ethereal space/no junction that you and I/can call our own.’ Here lies the paradox of our existence that despite our strengths, we are constantly left pondering on our precarious, uncertain existence.
The poet has a delicate sensitivity and is passionate about many issues, humanitarian and political, afflicting our society. She pleads, ‘Why is there no tolerance/Why no space for difference/Why do we not embrace diversity/when will be ourselves/There is a purity and simplicity in her feelings that throb with strong emotion.’ She is passionate and passive at the same time. There is empathy and depth in her feelings that throb with strong emotion. She is passionate and passive at the same time. There is empathy and depth in her feeling. Within her, there is a silence that resounds like thunder, and ignites her inner soul like lightning.
Henna has created a fulfilling niche for herself, one of poetic spiritualism. She says, I live in a world of my own/in the music of time/Here, in her world, she finds the music of her soul, that is remote from the fiery turmoil of life and its incessant demands. Her craving for spiritual fulfillment lies at the core of her being. Everything else is vicarious and secondary. This is Henna’s philosophy of life and the crux on which the wheel of her life is lubricated.
Life’s Triangle is her poetic catharsis, articulated in simple verse, personifying her inner struggle that gushes out of her like a torrential downpour.

Life's Triangle

Bushra Naqi

Writer

Life’s Triangle

M. Athar Tahir

Pakistani civil servant who is also a poet, author, translator, painter and calligrapher

I t is a particular pleasure to be speaking about Syeda Henna Babar Ali’s latest collection of poems Life’s Triangle. Many of us as students dabble in the world of words and romance and sensitivities and sensibilities. It is part of growing up, of youth. Few however preserve beyond those halcyon days. Many of us cease to write or write only occasionally. Once the headiness of perceiving life in its myriad ways succumbs to the sound and fury of living.
But a dedicated few persist. Henna is one such. The title of her latest, ninth volume of poetry n English, Life’s Triangle is as intriguing as the poems between the two hard covers of this well-produced book.
Embedded in the ‘Triangle’, the geometric shape is the idea of tripartite division or balance. Unlike the bi-polar and mutually dependent Yin and Yang principle, the triangle is a more complicated concept.
If the triangle is irregular, then all its three sides are different, of unequal length or import. If it is an isosceles, only two of its sides are of the same length. And if it is an equilateral triangle, then all three sides are equal and they create a pointed balance. It is an equilibrium between three elements. The square – and I mean this geometrically, literally and metaphorically – can sit only in a square hole. And a circle in a circular opening or space, securely and solidly. The triangle, however, requires it unique shape, a shape that is angular. Much like life, each life, like each triangle, is unique.
And the poems in this volume reflect just that – the challenges of the poet to balance the trinity mind, body and soul or the triumvirate of the Chinese philosopher Kung Fu Tze, Confucius, of the hand, head and heart. The triangulation of the mundane, the intellectual and the spiritual, or the dukkha, sukha and the moksha or nirvana of Buddhism or the zahir, batin and irfan of the Sufis. Or the personal, private and the public.
It is between these tripolar creative spaces that the poems emerge, often articulating the irregular triangulation of life when competing forces are out of sort or angled sharply. Sometime sin an isosceles relationship where two aspects may dominate the third. And occasionally in the equilateral configuration when a balance among three concerns is realized. But in every case the poem speaks pointedly and poignantly of life experienced, felt and thought about.
My own comradeship with Henna goes back to the Eighties when she had taken the brave new initiative if editing and bringing out an English poetry magazine in collaboration with Quaid-e-Azam Library Lahore. The library was then headed by Air Commodore (retd) Inam ul-Haq, a FatherChristmasy figure, white-bearded and benign and a poet of English himself. Henna brought out several issues but the paucity of writers in English then, took its toll.
But the spirit behind the venture persisted and book after book of poems flowed, and continues to flow, from Henna’s pen.
The latest volume Life’s Triangle, is as she states ‘a mingled yarn’, poems of private grief and personal life’s slings and arrows find public expression. To see her husband fade gradually towards the end and on to eternity for a believer; the requiem poems on Jocelyn Ortt- Saeed and Syeda Latafat Haider the perennial themes of passing time, the nuanced spectrum of human sentiments fund varied expression here. Solitary suffering, political pronouncement of a patriotic Pakistani, appearance and reality, artifice and actuality, life’s purpose, all kind place in the spaces of her geometry. All is not nostalgia and longing. Here emails and the internet the more immediate aspects of living too encapsulate the contemporary experience s of the poet.

L ike Keats, she seems to fall in love with words and looks at fine phrases like a lover. Many of her poems are about language, her use of words, and bundles of letters but it is Eliot over and over again who dominates her feelings:
Henna weaves a web of poetical magic. Her imagery is rich with roses, “cascades of falling water”, “the unending sea”, images of sunrise and sunset, waterfalls and tree shades, “Transparent” is her favourite epithet. Eyes play a great role, they stare, they glare, they communicate or smile deceitfully. But there is a great deal of barrenness. There is a clutter of images of mechanical modern life, the robots, the computers, Pajeros and accelerators, phone calls, dinner plates, Jazz music and cigarette boxes.
One shares her feelings about politicians. “Political Time” is a depiction of our present situation:
“The Centre pulls, and Provinces resist
Who carries the blame
Guilt free, merciless politicians
Play a hypocritical game to
Serve their individual interest
That are contrary to nationalism.”
One shares her disgust of the country’s politicians though it is not possible to agree to her airlifting them and dropping them in Antarctica. One should pray for their conversion.

Midnight Dialogue

Air Commodore (Redtd.) Inamul Haq

Three-star air officer in the Pakistan Air Force who is known for his role as AOC of the Dacca airbase of the Pakistan Air Force. He was also a prolific poet and writer

Wet Sun

Prof. Alamgir Hashmi

English poet of Pakistani origin

S o, in a sense, one is moving from the present to the beginnings; and one can easily see a certain uniformity of style and concerns, though the later poems are more forceful in their social commentary.
Henna either writes a highly subjective surreal style or one of pithy comment. A good example of the first is seen in “To Me”.
Henna’s awareness of the world around her is a positive aspect of the recent writing – in such poems as “United Europe”, “Political Time”, etc. – but her most well-achieved poems are those which concern the persona self in that the words have a more felt quality and the voice is agreeable direct.

T here is also more formal experimentation in the ‘Wet Sun’ poems, with the poet later setting down to a confident, sedate style albeit, but one lacking some of the spark and energy of the earlier work. One the whole however, one feels that the poet is moving towards greater clarity and insight and that out of the disappointment and pain will come a resilience and dignity which characterizes the work of great women poets.

Wet Sun

Shaista Sonnu

Syeda Henna Babar Ali has been writing for over a decade and the poems are more forceful in their social commentary

Dream & Reality

Begum Anese Majid Khan

Painter and writer of both prose and poetry in English language

H enna Babar Ali is a mature writer – She began her poetical presentation at a very early age.
Dream and Reality …. we need to dream if we are to survive in the theatre of life …. dream is our sustenance for survival against the harshness of reality. The author has captured the sting of reality weaving around it a web of deep spiritual sustenance she rambles through the ambrosia of love, haunting memories, crescendoing hopes, blissful aspiration, hurtling disappointment, spiritual elevation then once again dejection…. Thus returning again and again to the habitat of spiritual sanctuary and the sublime state of Sufism.
The poems are couched and cushioned with a labyrinth of love and intense sensitivity, yet she cannot be classified as only a romantic poet, for she has full command of the language that flows with harmony and insight, spinning on a wheel of spiritually and discord …. but it is not her poems that stir my own sensitivity, but the truth that it reveals that many competent facets of the author herself.
She passes through her meandering submissions, presenting the multi-facet concepts of her emotional involvement and analytic understanding of situations. She portraits the vast dimensions of not only her emotional and spiritual experiences, but also her political awareness, her deep sense of patriotism and her courage, as she pens hers poetry in a rare style that conveys her analytic mind and ability, combined with sincere forth righteous delivery.
To enjoy and appreciate “Dream and Reality” one must strip the outer bark to uncover and observe the finer markings that are ingrained in good quality wood which in itself is a beauty to behold.
She is fast moving into the arena of consistent mystic involvement with a higher Spiritual concept of Divinity.

I n fact the devotional poems, which form a major part of this collection and which according to the poet, point to “her journey towards God,” appear more meaningful when read in continuation of her love poems. When taken together these poems present an example of how a love experience transforms at times into a religious experience and ho, in consequence, genuinely written love poems find their sublimation in devotional poetry.
To be more precise, these delicately written poems tell the sad story of a forlorn soul, who being betrayed in her experience of love tries to find solace in the beneficent folds of the at Supreme Being, who is always kind enough:
So it is not devotional poetry written in a traditional way. Being with God is the most wonderful feeling.
Here is an attempt to express in words that most wonder feeling, which is nearer to a mystical experience. The expression is easy and simple. There seems to be no attempt to say things in a poetic way. This feeling has its own poetry. It doesn’t stand in need of a cultivated poetic style.

The Luminous Path

Bano Qudsia

Pakistani novelist, playwright and spiritualist

The Luminous Path

Leigh

I t is clear that the author of this collection of poems is writing in the ecstatic tradition of Islamic and Muslim devotees. Western readers are familiar with the works of Rumi and Kabir and find great spiritual wisdom from their words. It is clear that Henna shares their passion.
Her life is not a life of generalities. Her words are not the over-used language of inspirational writing. Instead, her life is filled with the dailyness of ordinary doings that the Divine so surprisingly touches. And it is her unique voice readers want to hear. There is a quiet beauty expressed in this book.

I was delighted and honored to receive your beautiful book, Life’s Triangle about 3 or 4 days ago. I have browsed through a few poems and as always I’m amazed at your poetic gifts. You write from your heart and it is soothing and at the same time disturbing to read some of your poems.
I’m opening and reading pages at random and I loved Life’s Purpose on Page 60 in particular. I will be reading through many more poems and I am sure I will share beautiful moments with them. I am glad you are continuing to write.

The Luminous Path

Bapsi Sidhwa

American–Pakistani novelist of Gujarati Parsi descent who writes in English and is resident in the United States