In praise of Letters to My Oldest Friend
Like many God-inspired poets of India’s Bhakti or devotional past (Mirabai and Chandidas come easily to mind), Janavi Held—writer, photographer, cineaste, observer of small miracles—chronicles the arrhythmia of a heart in love with Divinity. Letters to My Oldest Friend is a revelation. In elegant, spare verse and contemplative visual imagery, she gently cautions that we are victims of speeding postmodernism at risk of losing our souls, and that we will find the tools of our salvation in the quiet, unassuming details of everyday life. Here is a much needed roadmap to our inner geography, chartered by a gifted voice of conscience and our own better selves. Read, look, savor, and be inspired.
In her beautiful debut collection of poems, Janavi Held takes us on a journey of awakening, as she explores the ways in which her relationships with struggle, time, nature and beauty in this world, relate to her burgeoning relationship with the divine. From a restless: “there are so many stories in my lost heart” to the epilogue’s triumphant: “the heart speaks softly now,” her poems and photographs artistically chart the course of a soul moving gracefully through existential angst, as revealed to us in this prayerful dialogue with her “oldest friend”.
“Letters to My Oldest Friend” is a classic spiritual journey, starting with the anguish of her losses – of mobility, of mind (she says, but the poem belies it), “wrapped in a blanket of thorns”, then to the longing for the spirit, the Friend, and finally a joyous reunion with spirit through nature. I read these poems almost with tears. I also thought of how poems like these, especially the opening ones, could create compassion in the reader for all the sick and disabled from whom we tend to avert our gaze. Janavi Held’s language is beautiful and evocative, as when she writes, “remembering is a lost art/in the mind of these misshapen times.” The book is, quite simply, a gem.
Nina Mermey Klippel
author,”Tricks of The Light and Other Poems”, 2010
editor, The Village Zendo Bulletin