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  • Writer's pictureStephanie M. Wytovich

To Catch a Scream Mid-Mouth: A Review of Saba Syed Razvi’s Heliophobia

I always try to spend a good amount of time in the dealer’s room at conventions, and while I didn’t get as much book time as I would have liked, I did manage to steal away for a few moments here and there during StokerCon 2019. On one of my book binges there, I picked up two poetry collections from Saba Syed Razvi: Heliophobia and In the Crocodile Gardens. What immediately drew me to these collections (outside of Razvi being a beautiful, brilliant person and scholar) was their gorgeous cover art; I felt especially drawn to Heliophobia, which was the first one I decided to read after the semester’s end.

And where do I start? I feel like I could talk about this collection endlessly, and while I won’t, it’s important for you, the reader, to know that that’s the kind of depth that rests between these pages. Her poems are filled with sorrow, darkness, with weightlessness, magic, and lore. They are doors to different words, to surreal landscapes with harsh doses of reality, and I really enjoyed reading about and revisiting some of my favorite female archetypes such as Ophelia, St. Agnes, and a muse evoked in the spirit of/for Anais Nin.

Now Heliophobia itself is defined as a fear of sunlight, the sun, or any bright light in general. As such, there’s a real quality of specter here, almost as if these poems are a form of shadow work, words walking across the spirit plane in hopes of finding understanding, exorcism, or release. What I liked most about them was the questioning of self, identity, and place throughout the collection, all these quiet moments of stillness that were contrasted against how we (or our actions) are perceived. Because of that, there is an element of struggle here, of constraint, but I wouldn’t say these are dirges, but rather phantom confrontations between personal/cultural expectations uncovered through prayer and ritual. Truly, there’s a real beauty to be found in the raw parts of our hearts, and I think Razvi shows this in a unique way, something that I haven’t quite gotten with other contemporary poets I’ve read.

Her style is more dreamlike, more contemplative, and it evokes the silhouette of a woman hunting ghosts in a castle, her candelabra shaking as wax drips on her hand. If you’re in the mood for something that reads like a shared whisper or evokes the musicality of incantations sang around a warming cauldron, I think this collection might be for you.

In fact, make a pot of chamomile and catnip tea and sip it while reading under the moon. You won't regret it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

[Note: the line "to catch a scream mid-mouth" is taken from Saba's poem "To learn patience,".]

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