Winter Reads recommended by Shagufta K
Winter is coming! With Autumn being wrapped away into the fire of leaves, and those long walks through woods becoming more challenging, and with the disappearance of daylight. I decided to put together a list of books I think would make the hibernation period more beautiful, and less disconnected from the world. Even though I know it has been a scary year.
So let me give you poetry:
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire
What elevates Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. As Rumi said, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own“; in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan’s debut pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly.
Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Warsan has read her work internationally, including recent readings in South Africa, Italy and Germany, and her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
I Am the Beggar of the World
Afghans revere poetry, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet―a landay, an ancient oral and anonymous form created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. War, separation, homeland, love―these are the subjects of landays, which are brutal and spare, can be remixed like rap, and are powerful in that they make no attempts to be literary. From Facebook to drone strikes to the songs of the ancient caravans that first brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago, landays reflect contemporary Pashtun life and the impact of three decades of war. With the U.S. withdrawal in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk of being lost when the Americans leave.
After learning the story of a teenage girl who was forbidden to write poems and set herself on fire in protest, the poet Eliza Griswold and the photographer Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to learn about these women and to collect their landays. The poems gathered in I Am the Beggar of the Worldexpress a collective rage, a lament, a filthy joke, a love of homeland, an aching longing, a call to arms, all of which belie any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.
When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.
I Call. You’re stone
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone
May God destroy the Taliban and end their wars.
They’ve made Afghan women into widows and whores.
You sold me to an old man, father
May god destroy your home; I was your daughter
May your airplane crash and may the pilot die
that you are pouring bombs on my beloved Afghanistan.
Making love to an old man
Is like fucking a shrivelled cornstalk black with mould
Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.
My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.
I’ll kiss you in the pomegranate garden. Hush!
People will think there’s a goat in the underbrush.
The Celebration – Ghayath Almadhoun
Poet Ghayath Almadhoun (Syria, 1979) is part of a generation of young, engaged authors. He was born in a refugee camp in Damascus, the child of a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother. He studied Arabic literature at the University of Damascus and made his debut in 2004 with the collection Qasaed Sakatat Sahwan (Unintentional poems). Together with the Syrian poet Lukman Derky he set up The House of Poetry in 2006. In 2008 he moved to Stockholm, where he sought political asylum. In Sweden he published another two poetry collections, of which the second, Till Damaskus, he wrote with the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg. With Silkeberg, he also made a number of poetry films on topics including the bomb attacks in the Gaza strip. In recent years, Almadhoun’s poems have been translated into a variety of languages. In his poems he describes the experiences of asylum seekers, homesickness for a homeland, and the guilt of a young intellectual who has abandoned his native country. In 2012 he was awarded the Klas de Vylders prize by the Swedish Writers Union. His most recent collection, La Astatee Alhoudour (I Cannot Be Present), was published in 2014.
The Brink – Jacob Polley
Jacob Polley is the author of three acclaimed poetry collections, The Brink, Little Gods and, most recently, The Havocs, as well as a Somerset Maugham Award-winning novel, Talk of the Town. Born in Cumbria, he now lives in St. Andrews and works in Newcastle.
Though still in his mid-twenties Jacob Polley is already in possession of a remarkably mature talent. Formally graceful, but unself-conscious, his poems come at the reader from all angles, wholly alive to the unique possibilities of their subjects – the sea, the land, the home, the very brink of things. This debut collection gives us the first opportunity to see his transforming imagination in action.
You hold it like a lit bulb,
a pound of light,
and swivel the stunned glow
around the fat glass sides:
it’s the sun, all flesh and no bones
but for the floating knuckle
attesting to the nature of the struggle.
Lady Gardens – Lucy Lepchani
Lucy Lepchani uses both contemporary and traditional poetic forms in Ladygardens, to draw attention to subaltern voices, to prod at injustices and taboos, or stroke life’s underbelly with tenderness, with passion, with humour. Lucy gives voice to ordinary people and is unafraid to champion a cause or point out the ridiculous contradictions of 21st Century Britain, in particular with regard to how women are portrayed or expected to behave.
Pink butterfly nestled into roseate nectarine.
Plump white peach.
Pomegranate splitting red with ripening.
Pale peony bud, peeping petals.
Double-bloomed camellia, dusky, crumpled.
countless pale-pink Phaleonopsis.
Full fleshed rose, or
a butterfly rising from an opening iris.
Folded, dark wings moth.
Tiny, peeping, sleeping mammal.
Undersea creature, coral fronds frilling.
Glistening oyster open to the tide.
Closed, loved seed-pod.
Over-ripe Victoria plum,
Fat fig, lush with summer.
Worlds Wife – Carol Ann Duffy
That saying? Behind every famous man . . . ? From Mrs Midas to Queen Kong, from Elvis’s twin sister to Pygmalion’s bride, they’re all here, in Carol Ann Duffy’s inspired and inspirational collection, The World’s Wife.
Witty and thought-provoking, this is a tongue-in cheek, no-holds-barred look at the real movers and shakers across history, myth and legend. If you have ever wondered, for example, how exactly Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, or what, precisely, Frau Freud thought about her husband – then this is the book for you, as the wives of the great, the good, the not so good, and the legendary are given a voice in Carol Ann Duffy’s sparkling and inventive collection.
7 April 1852.
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.
There Are No Americans in Baghdad’s Bird Market – Dikra Ridha
Dikra Ridha is an Iraqi-British poet who completed an MA at Bath Spa University, from which emerged this selection of poems. She lives in the south west of England where she works as a freelance translator. There are no Americans in Baghdad’s Bird Market is Dikra’s debut pamphlet. Exiled and driven by her perception of the distance from her relatives in Baghdad, Dikra writes between cultures and languages in an attempt to capture their voices and transform them into words. A number of these poems have appeared in publications across the UK and Australia.
When the war against us began
I was building a tower of cards
in the garden,
each card had drawings;
me on your land; us embracing.
Jiddu, the top card
was of my uncles, aunties and cousins,
sitting in a closed circle, which opened up
with laughter like petals. I turned
to catch the kiss you blew.
Did you know I would grow up to forget
your songs, beyond two oceans
where the sun is pale and the wind froze
when I spoke of you in Baghdad?
Clouds fell on the pictures I drew,
they ran in dirty water. Streaks
of yellows and greens took
a last glance at the sky.
I should not need to explain this. Get Rumi. Life is never the same after Rumi.
© Shagufta Iqbal