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Review: Smithereens, by Tariq Latif

When Tariq Latif's first collection, Skimming the Soul, appeared in 1991, Ian McMillan described his poems as gleaming 'with articulate anger'.

... Smithereens is his fourth collection - short but long awaited. Poems about the Scottish landscape sit with others about family, moving between references to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism so that these major world religions are interchangeable, each with its own claim on the places Latif honours in devotional, lyrical poems. Much of the collection is about belonging, but Latif hasn't lost his fire in the mountains - 'Lindon' and the final poem 'The Grouse' show racism is thriving and even isolation offers no escape.

There's wisdom in these poems. In 'Lindon', a man drinking Guiness (the reader assumes he's black) 'in a den of bloodhounds' deals with hostility by thinking about the cosmos 'and how this moment will pass'. 'Diamond Jubilee' balances fear of the far right with shame at the Jehads.

... A stunning backdrop of glens and lochs enables Latif to return to childhood - his grandfather whose presence was 'weighty as three sacks of wheat' - and in gorse and streams he hears 'the sweet echoes of an Islamic paradise.' But the collection's title comes from a poem celebrating a man 'out of time' who is able to connect with 'some primal fear'. This delivers the clue to Latif's theme throughout Smithereens - there must be a way for us to share awareness (rather than difference) by connecting with images like the golden fawn - a chance, awe inspiring moment:

our breathing becomes one
warm breath which spreads
through the wood, scatters as light.