Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems, by Nazifa Islam

Photo Credit: Shearsman Books

Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems by Nazifa Islam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nazifa Islam is your once in a generation poet. It’s no easy task to re-map the words of the great Virginia Woolf. Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems must have been both a challenge and reward to write. I think it’s quite clear Woolf and Islam share kindred souls. Their works deserve to rest side-by-side, forever conversing with one another, sharing the same shelf for generations. Islam’s book is their wedding—poetically speaking (pun intended). Forlorn Light is worth your time to read.

I warn you: read Nazifa Islam and you will be changed. Islam writes with phenomenal prowess about undressing and accessing the naked truth of the bipolar experience. Several poems left me exposed and shivering, as if I were in front of a mirror which reflected what’s inside the reader. The images I discovered moved me to tears. And, the more I studied, the more I understood myself. I know I will never be the same.

Read this book or miss out on something great. You can purchase it here:

Happy Reading!

Join 696 other subscribers

More from W. Alexander

Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

Henry James authored one of American literature’s prized realist masterpieces: The Portrait of a Lady. Considered a psychological novel, because of James’s microscopic emphasis into the innermost characterizations—internal action, circumstances, and how these forces develop external, plot moving actions—regarding his characters; he creates tantalizing themes of freedom versus oppression, and the progression, or degression, of self-knowledge through psychological and moral decisions—The Portrait of a Lady is a painting, lavishly brushed by words, which tells the truth of the human psyche.

            James’s psychological novel attaches significant emphasis on his characters innermost motives, and how they contemplate their external and internal circumstances, therefore, ultimately, weaving these inner tensions into external action—physical plot progression. James will time-and-time-again provide his readers with intimate, microscopic views into a character’s inner conflict. For example, consider Isabel Archer, the novel’s protagonist, “…I’m absorbed in myself—I look at life too much as a doctor’s prescription…Why should I be so afraid of not doing right? As if it mattered to the world whether I do right or wrong” (James 196). The psychological novel is, although prose fiction, a close study of humanity.

            In addition to the riches found within a character’s innermost motivations, another example of James’s prowess in developing his psychological novel is his unique use of theme. The masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady, although replete with sub-themes, is most recognized by Isabel Archer’s arcing struggles between oppression and freedom and independence versus destiny. Ezra Pound wrote, “What he [James] fights is ‘influence,’ the impinging of family pressure, the impinging of one personality upon another” (Quoted by Lane par. xvi). James detested tyranny and the petty personal oppressions he witnessed everyday persons inflict upon each other. His, literary, voice reflects this contempt throughout The Portrait of a Lady. It is the unique frequent indecisions of his protagonist Isabel Archer’s, her inner conflicts with external consequences, need to stand on one’s own self-sufficiency, and her culture’s desire to rein her into the larger world’s conformity of marriage and obedience, that makes this psychological novel worthy of its home in the pantheon of literary masterpieces.

            However, despite James’s impressive weave of great emphasis regarding inner character, and his larger theme of oppression versus freedom, there is yet another, stronger, undebatable footprint of the perfect psychological novel: James writes the truth. This truth is the selfish self-interest of other person’s desire for psychological domination (control) or, more common, the extent of scheming and ambitious lies some persons will steep to subdue and extinguish another’s light—a person’s innocence. For example, Osmond, Isabel Archer’s eventual husband and the novel’s chief antagonist, never fell in love with Isabel; he fooled her in order to subdue her; he wanted her as a trophy, “That is what monsters do, especially the polite and patient ones: they harvest souls. Hand them a human in full bloom, and what they give back to you, after a few seasons, is a pressed flower” (Lane par. xvi). Humanity is often a horror story, and happy endings are not realistic stories.

This point of realism, life is often a horror story, is very much the eternal truth of James’s psychological novel; a genre devoted to the analytic study of the human condition; and, in his, the plight of self-degeneration through psychological manipulation. In laymen terms, the hell one finds themselves in once they realize they have altered their entire life for someone based upon a lie. And like, Isabel, it is often that everyone else can see the truth, but the one under their oppressor’s influence. In Isabel’s case, she becomes a victim of her own designs, “Isabel proceeds to marry Osmond, who she believes loves her and with whom she thinks she can relinquish the pressure to perform. She unfortunately rather quickly discovers the ruse and realizes he is the suitor most desirous of wiping her clean of any interiority” (Krzeminski 279). Perhaps, it could be argued her remark a third of the way through the novel was spoken from complete naivety (innocence) and foreshadowed the suffering that later came, “…to judge wrong, I think, is more honorable than not to judge at all” (James 143). By the end of the novel, and by a stroke of writing genius on James’s part, these words were no longer her truth.

            Henry James painted his theme of oppression versus freedom with microscopic emphasis on his characters innermost conflicts. The Portrait of a Lady is a masterpiece, not because of good versus evil, or anecdotes of adventures and trials; the novel is a masterpiece because it captures, like none before and few after, the human psyche down to the finest detail. James’s work reflects the progression and digression of his protagonist’s self-knowledge. By the end, the reader is left hanging. Isabel Osmond, as she is now, refuses to satisfy us with any epiphanic change; she does not, after confessing her plight to Ralph and kissing Casper, break for freedom, but in James’s fashion, she is handcuffed by her situation, which she blames herself for allowing, and, thus, she goes on, like so many women did and still do, without freedom, and with every reader questioning why, back to her prison of a marriage.

            Together, the theme and Isabel’s, surprising, negative character arc creates arguably the best psychological novel ever to be written, per its genre. As the reader travels its pages, they are confronted with a mirror, a work replete with accusing self-examinations, and, therefore, the reader is left, not watching, but considering the raw complexity of the human psyche, their own psyche.

  The footprint of realism has always been to write the truth; the common man or woman’s plight, and the mental gymnastics all persons, from all classes, perform are what makes this novel a psychological masterpiece. Throughout these pages, the reader finds the brushwork of the master, and like all great artists, James can not only paint a story by the prowess of his craft, but, simultaneously, he hangs a mirror of enigmas and human complexity. Every reader can relate to the figurative handcuff’s persons’ finds themselves confined to.


James, Henry. The Portrait of a Lady. Seedbox Press, LLC. Apple Books, 2015, pp. 143-196. e—book.

Krzeminski, Jessica. “The discovery was tremendous: Sex, Secrets, and Selfhood in The Portrait of a Lady.” The Henry James Review, article, Vol. 40., Iss. 3, 2019,pp. 279. Accessed 2021.

Lane, Anthony. “Out of The Frame, A New Portrait of Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady.’” The New Yorker, article, Books, Iss. September 2012., par. XVI. Accessed 2021.

More from W. Alexander

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This story had me drinking to get through it, as it twisted and ripped at my heart, for I could not put it down. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderfully written this novel is; the prose is beautiful, the plot is heart-wrenching, and the characters so richly developed, you love and hate them as if they are family.

It is rare that I read something that raises the kind of questions within that, if answered, sets me on a new path of self discovery. The mark of great literature is that the reader is changed. It will change you. It will touch you. It will help you have patience with the plights of the human condition—that is life. This is among the best stories I have ever read, and I am thrilled that this is Stedman’s first novel.

It is a beautiful and bitter-sweet story. Read this if you love a great ethical dilemma.

I recommend it with all the fervor I can muster.

Happy Reading,

View all my reviews

Related Posts:

Book Review: This Side of Heaven, Karen Kingsbury

Karen Kingsbury

This Side of Heaven by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had never read Karen Kingsbury before attending Liberty University. Watching her lectures and having her share her process, has been a blessing. So when my inspirational writing class assigned a book of hers this semester, I was excited to study her prose. And she far exceeded any expectation I had. Wow! Listen to me; you have to read this book. I am about to read everything she has ever written.

Sure, I may be generous with my five star ratings from time-to-time, but Kingsbury’s book here, truly deserves six, seven, or twenty stars. When I finished it, I squealed hallelujah.

I am a thirty-one year old grown man. I cried so much reading this book, I had to wipe my tears just to see the screen. I am being honest. Chapter twenty-five (no spoilers), I had to take a pause from reading; my heart required a break. I have read hundreds upon hundreds of books, and never had the experience I had with This Side of Heaven. Not only did her writing help muster deep within myself a spirit of revival, reading it I feel has changed me forever. This is life changing fiction.

Every once in awhile I come across a book, I will never forget my experience reading. Like almost having a heart attack on my couch, because of this gem.

Anything else I say, will be perceived hyperbole. I highly recommend this book. May God bless and sustain her art. Just wow!

View all my reviews

I am thinking of adding a couple book reviews to my regular blog. I am wondering if that is something, you, my readers would enjoy? Please let me know in the comments below or send me an email.

More Posts:

Beat the Boy; Destroy the Man 

W. Alexander Dunford  I will never forget the television’s blue light that night fifteen years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond played. Outside, beneath black skies, rain pelted our windows and the house’s bones braced against high winds. Thunder shook the walls.  It was Father’s idea to watch the movie. He loved violence, and I loved…

The Day God Died: Chapters 1 &2

“…in that moment my fear retreated. I discovered I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born to. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

A Season of Faith

I reached a milestone this week. I finished reading the entire Bible. I am proud of myself; this was no easy feat. I finally can say I have read the whole Bible, every word. I do not know whom in real life, I would actually say it to. But I can say it, and that is something. You might say, that is good for you, but how is this related to your writing blog? My answer, God is my inspiration for writing. I just did not know that for a long time.

This post is not meant to be self-gratifying or boastful. My purpose is to show you how transformative reading the Bible is.

If you have read my work, you know I teeter on the edge of existentialism. This life is a mess, and God gives me a firm foundation in a collapsing world. He gives me a reason for hope. As an artist and scholar, I have long looked for my voice. I think I found it now; Or at least I am close. I do know one thing for certain, my writing is meant for ministry. Whether that is apologetics, fiction, or creative nonfiction, I do not know, but I know I am called to both cloth and pen.

“I Am Second”

W. Alexander

I study creative writing at Liberty University, under New York Times Best selling author Karen Kingsbury. Both play a major role in influencing me. But for once, I do not mind being influenced. When I write about God or themes of God, my heart feels unleashed. I feel nothing, but peace, love, and fire. There is more to my writing than mere words. A higher message is being conveyed. One of hope, in a world that suffers generation-to-generation.

With that being said, I confess I am no pedantic observer of every scriptural truth. I am after all, human. God and I disagree on quite a bit. I lean progressive in scholarship; think C.S. Lewis. But I do submit to God’s design for life, not mine. I do not understand why some things are sin and others are not; etcetera. But my feelings on the subject are not part of the equation. I am second. This is where I find peace. Submission brings inner peace. That is the lesson I learned from reading the entire Bible.

Now, I am curious to learn what inspires you? What makes your heart race when you write? Whom is the reader you imagine reading your manuscript? I cannot wait to read your answers.

Below is my Goodreads review for the devotional Bible I finished a couple days ago.

Wow! I did it. I read the entire Bible, beginning to end. Peterson’s edition is designed to only take one year; it took me three. Life gets busy. I have school, a toddler, work, other books to read, etcetera. But I am proud to say, finally, I have read the entire Bible; every single word. I spent my mornings with the Bible in one hand and coffee in the other.

You should understand that The Message translation is not an authoritative translation. And Peterson’s, The Message Remix is to be read as a devotional. Serious scholarship will be done elsewhere. But you are not reading this Bible for serious scholarship; you are reading it to spend time with God. To have a daily conversation with your creator, I highly recommend this Bible. It took me years, but I am glad I finished it.
W. Alexander’s Review

A Nod To Derry’s Son

Derry, New Hampshire was the longtime home of Robert Frost. This poem is in dedication to my favorite poetry book: North of Boston, and his poem October.

I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open

Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye…


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.