The book employs an elaborate, lyrical conceit of statements by historical figures associated with Timbuktu. It is difficult in this formal construct to achieve coherence, but it works and succeeds, and draws forth fine poetry. It also endeavours to make the historical fabrications relevant to modern day, and this, too, works. This, the pertinence of historical art, its meanings, the themes it explores, and the ethical and moral questions it poses, to choices made by the living, is a major interest of mine; hence, to me, the further appeal of this book.
The poetic form chosen is the lyric: the expression of emotion, the celebration of what is known, the lamentation for what is lost; endangered as a form because form has “overpowered content;” although I think what Bruce Meyer is also saying, as Svetlana Alexievach states in her Nobel Lecture, that, as we “live faster than ever before, … content ruptures form.” In his prose introduction to the book, the poet discusses his approach to the idea of the book, namely that as “a subject for poetry Timbuktu is both the love object and tainted love, both love lyric and elegy.” This seems to me reminiscent of Cervantes’s observation in Don Quixote that “good seldom or never comes pure and undiluted without being accompanied or followed by some evil that spoils or disturbs it.” (I:XLI)
The dramatis personae are given brief biographies at the conclusion of the work, but I think the worth of the poetry itself further demonstrates itself because it does not need the support of the historical glossary.