Indran Amirthanayagam

Estha Weiner

This Insubstantial Pageant by Estha Weiner: reviewed by Indran Amirthanayagam

This Insubstantial Pageant
Estha Weiner
Broadstone Books, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-956782-25-7

Reviewed by Indran Amirthanayagam

This Insubstantial Pageant announces its theme with a bold, golden proscenium stage on the front cover, and three empty seats on that stage. There are no humans seated in the audience. Have the occupants of the seats left stage right or left? Are they coming back? Are they already insubstantial like words spoken into the air, unrecorded, part of a stage show rather than a film?

Let us look inside Estha Weiner’s absorbing and entertaining and deeply moving book to find out. This brief and compelling poet’s theater is to be seen, read out loud, turned to music. The poems are words for actors, stage directions, mise-en-scene . And they are informed by the most famous lines in English theater. “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players,/They have their exits and entrances,/And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Weiner begins her play putting her actors on different points on stage. When you get the book, just look at the spacing in her first poem “Hell Is Murky, 2020”. We are on stage at the height of Covid-19, the epic tragedy of our times, the show we cannot avoid, that kills and maims:

“Here’s the smell
of the blood still.
All the perfumes
of Arabia will not
sweeten this little hand.”

But she decleares at the end of the poem:

“ What need we fear?
Who knows it when none can call our power
to account?”

The rest of the poems detail exactly what we fear and why we have to engage in the good fight against evil.

In “A Green and Yellow Melancholy” Weiner comments wryly on how colors can be as “envy, mold and decay,” “wet behind the ears,/a yellow dog.A frog. A coward.”

In “And There’s Still Free Shakespeare in the Park”, suddenly in the middle of the poem and the play “Sieg Heil. Heil Hitler stabs/out Shakespeare…a prank/of punk.” “We hope,/and reel attention back/to Juliet, who might wake /in time, this time.”

All the poems in Weiner’s short and tight collection intrigue me for their deep empathy with English and American theater In “A Little Beckett, A Little O’Neill “ the landscape is indeterminate…In the breeze of anticipated/summer is ice/that will become a Man.”

We become men and women of the theater as we read these poems, every one a fragment of the kaleidoscope, some times dissemblng, that is life on stage. And the stage is not only on or off Broadway. It is in the subway. It is looking over city roofs during the pandemic where

from my back balcony
on your communal roof:

I view where you’ve placed
a rectangular table,

so humans can dine together
socially, at a distance, after 7


Three nights a week
you create the feast

which lasts beyond
the dark,

until it disappears.

These poems will not disappear. The curtain opens on them every time you pick up this book or look back, not in anger but in memory, at this exquisite vision inside the stage.




Indran Amirthanayagam writes poetry in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. He is the author of twenty three books of poetry and poetry in translation, including Origami: Selected Poems of Manuel Ulacia, Blue Window (Dialogos Books) The Migrant States (Hanging Loose Press 2020),Coconuts on Mars (Paperwall, 2019), Uncivil War (Mawenzi House (formerly TSAR), Canada, 2013), and the Paterson Prize-winning The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose, 1993). Amirthanayagam is a 2020 Foundation for Contemporary Arts fellow in poetry, and a past fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts, the US/Mexico Fund for Culture, and the MacDowell Colony. He edits The Beltway Poetry Quarterly; curates the reading series Poetry at Beltway Editions, and publishes poetry books with Sara Cahill Marron at Beltway Editions. He serves on the Board of DC-ALT. His blog is

Estha Weiner's newest poetry collection is This Insubstantial Pageant (Broadstone Books, 2022). She is also author of at the last minute ( Salmon Poetry) ; In the Weather of the World { Salmon Poetry}; Transfiguration Begins at Home {Tiger Bark Press}; The Mistress Manuscript { Asheville Book Works}; and co-editor /contributor to Blues for Bill: A Tribute to William Matthews { University of Akron Press, Akron Poetry Series} Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The New Republic and Barrow Street. Winner of a Paterson Poetry Prize, Speaker on Shakespeare for NY Council for the Humanities, and Visiting Scholar at Shakespeare Institute, Stratford, England, Estha is founding director of Sarah Lawrence College NY Alumni Writers Nights and serves on the Advisory Committee of Slapering Hol Press, Hudson Valley Writers Center. She is a professor at City College of N.Y. Dept. of English and Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute.. In her previous life, she was an actor and worked for BBC Radio. Website: