[Gaudy Boy; 2022]
My busy brain is trained in paying attention. These days, it is a particular kind of attention, necessary for successfully digesting work emails, documents and spreadsheets, correctly copying a calendar invite or Zoom link. I need to understand everything I am seeing, I need to communicate in explicitly clear and overt ways. Reading Jhani Randhawa’s Time Regime asked, urgently, for my brain to release itself from this kind of thinking. When I began reading, this professionally clinical force had me wanting to make sense of every word, every sentence. I wanted a narrative that was clear and concise. But as the pages went on, I was left with no choice but to surrender to the book’s polyphonic qualities, which lay outside such an easily definable logic. I leaned into the sonic textures so incredibly present in this work, the ways in which time and self are bent, the ghostly endings, so excellently crafted. As a reader, I am so driven by moments like this — opportunities that shift us, asking us to suspend our perceptions of what we want and what we need from a text.
Time Regime is the winner of the 2021 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize and Jhani Randhawa’s full-length debut. I have followed their work for some time now, both online and in print (which includes owning my very own cherished copy of Humming Fields / Songs of Possession, a chapbook they produced with Rivulet co-editor/co-founder Teo Rivera-Dundas.) All of Randhawa’s work has always demanded this particular surrender from me. It is work insistent on interruption as a vehicle for assembly (also dis-assembly.) Time Regime is far beyond a simple debut poetry collection; it is a “collection of experiments, mechanical dream logs, epistolaries, and field notes” which “assembles an emergent mutant body intent on interrupting neoliberal imperialism’s rhythms and expectations.” Professor Dorothy Wang, who selected this book as the prize winner, remarked aptly: “The work is formally inventive yet never falls into avant-garde performativity.”
Randhawa has a control over language that I rarely encounter. There is a feeling of each word having been specifically selected, purposeful descriptions that alter the way we talk about the things around us. There is both implicit and explicit inquiry of how we name objects and ourselves. As they state, “I’m only here with questions.”
Ever-present in Time Regime is a relationship to ecology, which then becomes a relationship to decay and memory as well as to the body’s place among such landscapes, “managing pollution through ritual.” There is time spent in transit, outdoors and in faraway homes, on Zoom memorial services, and in the space of a shared apartment.
There are also moments where the binary between body and environment collapses. Randhawa describes their work as existing through the intersecting lenses of ecofeminism and necrosociality, which is to say, this book does not shy away from violence or precarity. Yet among these (capital L) Large themes, there is also an attention towards moments that feel quite ordinary: “I cannot sleep so I leave the bed, full of the passing weeks. / Observing a cascade, those coordinates that locate a body / in a landscape, letting it smear — I contemplate meditating. I think, is this not meditating? / It is clear I am out of practice.” In all of its poetic beauty, this is also an overwhelmingly relatable series of thoughts. Late at night, places can be so heavy with memory. And what is meditating? (I, too, am out of practice.)
Moreover, this is not a text of total pessimism; it sits with the nuances of being in a contemporary body. One could write entire essays on each of the complex themes found in this book, but (being the self-proclaimed romantic that I am), I was moved by the fact that this book does make room for love. In the beautifully titled CURA EATS, AND LOVER, BLUE or How to love a white man, in eight segments, Randhawa states: “Together sometimes we harness the force of what hovers above a raw crater. / On a clear day your body doesn’t remind you of the mess.” This feels true to me — there are moments of lightness where we are not reminded of everything we know. This isn’t ignorance; it is being in kinship, romance, and love, and holding room for the complexities that relationships demand. It is exploring the various kinds of proximity: we are near to decay, but we are also near to each other.
Another theme deeply woven into this book’s thought patterns is gender — meditations upon which I also thoroughly enjoyed. In the titular poem TIME REGIME, the reader istold: “I want to write about the mustache I am softly growing but feel the need to give it space and not actually write about it until I read the essay Hair, Sex, and Dirt by P. Hershmann on North Indian magical hair practices and colonial policing of gender fluidities.” Randhawa confesses the challenges that come with authority and declaration surrounding a concept that is also deeply personal and experienced wholly outside of theory. How do we know when an experience is only for us, or for our work on the page? To be truthful about gender requires some protection. Gender truth can also highlight the gaps between us and those we care about: “i begin to feel sad for reasons that my dead grandmother might not have felt sad about: no women can facilitate gurdwara service, perform simran for a group gathered in a sacred place like this temple on the west london high street.” Each generation has its own sadness, but the specifics of our time and of our bodies transpose that sadness into aches that are particular to us. Randhawa has written this conundrum wonderfully.
Moving through Time Regime, the reader coasts through sections of prose then delineated poetry, seamlessly shifting between both, and often being presented with a muddled in-between. Randhawa also gives us many multi-part poems, extending our engagement between ample pauses and white space. There is a true variety of form in this book that I don’t always encounter in others, or at least, encounter in a way that feels aligned and meaningful. It’s a cohesion that, still, is in direct conversation with disjunction. In Part IV of the poem FACING MAID SEQUENCE, titled “LOSS”, we are presented with words broken apart:
lea ve the plains
ca nyon inher
And words melding:
In loss, our language crumbles and logic is further distended. This play with space and collision brings this to mind; it makes one read more slowly and notice the texture of each sound. As I was pulled further and further into the world of Time Regime, I continued to think about how this mingling of disjunction and breakage and then coalescence is actually a condition I — we are all — used to. It’s the condition that we live in, in a time of both destruction and joy — the duality of decay and ordinary togetherness I called attention to previously.
Furthering a reader’s participation in the text, and adding yet another form to the book’s repertoire, the poem WORK SONGS: “THERE IS LIFE AFTER PROPERTY” is presented as an emergence exercise and performance. We are given a list of interjections to call in, with the hope of conjuring certain visions. SCRIATION II: RECRYSTALLIZE considers various forms of address: “Maybe pursue the poem in another register” or “Maybe as a letter.” Randhawa’s writing is always self-aware and in direct confrontation with its existence on the page. Beyond that, this moment of questioning the “ideal” form made me wonder — what is the best way to get an urgent message across? How can we get people to pay attention to the world around us? To care about destruction, to want to question what our human complicity is? It’s a futile quest at times, but one that I think requires looking beyond ourselves.
This notion of outward connection, of looking backwards and forwards and around for answers, I think drives the inquiries of this text. In FACING MAID SEQUENCE: (Part I), we are told: “Feathery worms float by. Are we awash in ash, are you still close? Are you near the zone? / Lineage calls out from the wake: / Where is your clean dress?” These lines embody a reaching and ever-constant asking. Throughout the book, there is a thin veil between the past and present; ghostly voices feel very welcomed in the world that Randhawa has crafted. Indeed, these voices are not only welcomed but necessary, probing us even when we don’t want to remember certain things.
I see these voices as forms of threads, an idea often found in these pages and that Randhawa closes the book with. What I mean by threads is this notion of overlap — how grief crashes into other griefs. Threads of time — history and present, threads between distant geographies, between everyday violence and the reality of what it creates. One of the greatest feats of this book is how these themes are not separate from the text, but so deeply embedded within it. The syntax, like threads, distends, bunches, gaps, and releases.
The final section, repeating the address “dear thread,” leaves us with a thinning ending:
how do we approach the tension? But I’m still around, missing you
beaming you in—
These lines on the book’s final page capture so effectively the crux of Randhawa’s masterful writing. There is questioning, a yearning to know how we can repair, a confession of friendship, a breakage in time. This is a book worthy of multiple reads. In fact, it may demand them. I hope to revisit these pages in these coming months, and I have no doubt I will encounter further evidence of the captured knots, subtleties, inquiries, and deeply human moments held in them.
Sarah Sophia Yanni‘s writing has appeared in DREGINALD, Feelings, Autostraddle, and others. She is the author of ternura / tenderness (Bottlecap Press) and is Assistant Editor of The Quarterless Review. A finalist for BOMB Magazine’s 2020 Poetry Contest, she lives and works in Los Angeles.