Reviewed by Cheryl Snell

By Kim Roberts

Vrzhu Press
3323 14th St.NE
Washinton   DC 20017
48 ppgs, $12
ISBN 978-1-4303-1407-3

In the lines of this book-length poem, Kim Roberts distills for us the essence of India. Braiding past and present with sensual detail, she summons up the contrasts-- houses on a narrow dirt lane sharing the wall of Muhammadpur's tomb, men in dhotis squatting "like giant grasshoppers" near "a chandelier vendor, / his wares hanging from a tree // so the cut glass shimmered / where the sun / filtered through the dusty leaves," her observations of the outer world complemented by inner realizations arrived at organically. "Despite the push, the rush, / the clouds of hovering blue-grey smoke / rising from the traffic, // there is all the time in the world."
The book is based on the journal Roberts kept during a two-month stay with a host family in New Delhi. "It was strange to be so well taken care of, and so little in control of my personal decisions (such as what to eat: a cook delivered my meals). While much of my experience never made it into the book, some parts are taken straight from my journals," she says. The Kimnama (the history of Kim) is a single, singular poem broken up into thirty-eight three-line lyric, imagistic stanzas that play against the long narrative.  The language throughout is elegant and precise, and the short swinging lines reinforce the idea of passage, for me. Musical repetitions, the use of opposites, and the theme of connection, recall Whitman--especially "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" or "Prayer to Columbus."
In The Kimnama, the narrator is between cultures, speaking from the point of view of multiplicity; she is open to change, individually and as part of a community. "Awareness of emptiness brings forth the heart of compassion," Gary Snyder has written, and Roberts treats blurred boundaries with respect and charity:

At the chai shop two women
join me on the bench
...I make a sign, asking,
can I take your picture?
The older woman asks for money,
...When I reach for my wallet
she laughs and pushes it away
what is she saying?
Mr. Singh translates
...she is teaching you
the word we use for friend.

In her journal, Roberts writes, "The other morning I saw that a street vendor had deposited a huge pile of red onion skins in the gutter, and there were three cows eating the skins--and it was such a moment of pure beauty, the cows with their noses deep in this rich reddish-purple color in the midst of all the traffic and the noise, as if they knew they were gods. It all passed by in a flash--."
Here is the section of The Kimnama based on that journal entry:

A fruit market on spindly wooden stands
      is built by the side of the road.
   Next to the melons,

a barber lifts his knife,
      his client's face
   full of white lather.

A clump of laughing women
      in a rainbow of saris
   crosses the street.

Japanese Maruti vans honk
      past ancient Ambassador cabs
    built like tanks.

A man clad in a bright pink turban
      and an orange scarf
   around his neck smiles without teeth.

The market vendor deposits
      red onion skins in the gutter
   and three cows gather,

push their noses deep in rich reddish-purple,
      stopping traffic,
   as if they knew they were gods.

The dualities of the poem, light and dark, beauty and ugliness, the modern and the ancient, all come together by imagining the whole. Czeslaw Milosz reminds us "how difficult it is to remain just one person / for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, /and invisible guests come in and out at will." Each guest is valued in the resonant, musical work that is The Kimnama.


Cheryl Snell's books include poetry(Flower Half Blown, Epithalamion, Samsara) and a novel, Shiva's Arms. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, book reviews editor at Alsop Review, and blogs at



Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.