Searching for You
By Leonard Dabydeen
I reviewed Leonard Dabydeen’s earlier collection of poetry, Watching You, a few years ago. Watching You is the first collection of Tetractys poems; meaning the first book consisting entirely of the Tetractys form. The Tetractys is a five-line syllabic form with the count as follows: 1-2-3-4-10. It is based on Pythagorean number theory where the first four numbers add up to 10. 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, so in a way the last line syllabically gathers the first four lines.
In Dabydeen’s second book, Searching for You, the author continues with his exploration of the Tetractys form. But in this volume Dabydeen has added Fibonacci poems as well. The relationship between the two forms is intriguing. The overall count for the Tetractys is 20 syllables. Dabydeen uses the six-line form of the Fibonacci: 1-1-2-3-5-8, which also adds up to 20 syllables for the overall count. The two forms are similar in the overall shape; both forms start with a one-count word, then they open up into longer lines, but the pacing of how they open differs. In both forms the last line has the longest count. The interplay between the two forms is one of the things which gives Searching some of its charm. The book is a demonstration of how a syllabic line in English functions by using two forms with the same overall count, that share an overall shape, but with different distributions of that count.
Dabydeen’s approach to lineation is grammatical; each line forms a grammatical unit. In overall structure, most of the poems are single sentence poems so that they flow from the opening one-count line to the end where the reader usually encounters the longest line. (There are some exceptions where Dabydeen uses a reversed structure of the lines.) The two forms both start with a one-count word; so they share that in common. As in his previous book, the first line often consists of a pronoun, which makes sense. It seems to me that in this second book, though, Dabydeen is more expansive in his choice of opening one-count words. The opening word in forms like the Tetractys and Fibonacci carries a lot of weight; a single word of one count holds an entire line. And Dabydeen draws us in with his opening words.
Dabydeen writes his poems based on his personal experience, often commenting on his own emotional state, current events, the plight of refugees, and landscapes, particularly at night. There is also a strongly religious element threading through the collection. Dabydeen’s Hinduism plays a prominent role and some of the poems are invocations or prayers to deities such as Krishna.
Lonely as a Star
behind the clouds
I sit on this bench lonely as a star.
This is beautifully shaped. The lineation is clear. There is an elegant integration of the landscape with the author’s interior mood. There is also a judicious use of rhyme, tonight/moonlight, which helps us to feel the sense of the form. And there is a sonic resonance between dark/star which also helps to clarify the shape of the poem.
Here is another Tetractys:
being with you
brings me closer to a wish coming true.
Again we see the well-crafted lineation and the judicious use of rhyme, you/true. I also appreciate the way the first four lines tumble into the long closing line in a way that feels rhythmically natural. It’s almost like you are hearing someone speaking this, pausing slightly at the end of each short line, and then opening their heart in the last, longer line.
Here is a seascape:
from the boardwalk
I watch waves rushing to shore quietly.
Not all of his Tetractys rhyme, but I admire the skillful, and natural, way that Dabydeen uses rhyme in a way that is unaffected. Here is an unrhymed Tetractys:
this cold morning
sunshine pretends to keep melting the snow.
There are 125 Tetractys poems. These are followed by 76 Fibonacci poems. Here are some prayers to Lord Krishna:
like flowers blooming
in a garden with trees of thorns.
in Kali Yuga
free us from evil, Lord Krishna
I enjoyed reading the specifically religious poems in this collection; they add a deeper dimension to the collection. Notice how in the second prayer to Krishna, Dabydeen starts two lines with ‘in’, while the last two lines use a mild end rhyme, Yuga/Krishna. This gives the prayer a chant-like sound; I wonder how this prayer would sound put to music; I can almost hear the tune.
At times Dabydeen is philosophical:
So Much of Life
is made up
of how we gather
all the things we do together.
Dabydeen is a major syllabic poet writing in English. His two books are a significant contribution to the small, but growing, body of English syllabic verse. His work is carefully constructed, wide ranging in topics, and imbued with both emotional and intellectual honesty. His second book is a wonderful collection and I look forward to future publications.
Botany of Life
bloom in abundance
it is the botany of life.
Searching for You:
A Collection of Tetractys & Fibonacci Poems
By Leonard Dabydeen
Available from Amazon, Xlibris, or through Ingram Distribution.