I didn’t come to this anthology cold. I am already following two of its poets on Twitter: the editor, Iranian poet Soodabeh Saeidnia, and my friend, Egyptian poet Ash Bahget, host of the #Ashverse poetry thread and a muse to many of us in his own right. I confess I bought the book purely to have the pleasure of reading some of Ash’s longer works. Twitter poetry is a challenge and a pleasure, but there is a different vibe in a longer poem, room to breathe and stretch a little, to let the words spread themselves out and show their depth.
I have a great respect for any writer who has the strength of will to write in a language not their first. Reading these poems, I prepared myself to be tolerant, thinking that quality might easily be hidden under a lack of facility with the language. O woman of little faith, hang your head in shame. Here is the language I have spoken from the cradle, turned and examined and crafted by ten poets, all of whom are completely competent in at least two written languages. I have never had the nerve to write in any language but my mother tongue, and now I find myself outed as a dilettante, a shiftless layabout, a poet only half committed to my craft, speaker of only a single language. And lazy!
Here I find images the mind cannot let go:
Even though the petals fell / blackened like leaves from hell / the tree is still standing…
Moments of pure heartache:
I love the people / who left footprints / on my heart beach
Never faded / by waves / of other smiles
The power of desire:
Take a sip of me / I’ll drift under your skin
I tried many times / to forget your words / to unlearn the memories
To untie the knot forever…
…I am prisoning myself in the walls of your words.
The girls had dropped their head scarves and dropped shoes along the way
I used that as a guide to follow where the Hashtag came from…
From ‘Hashtag’ by Debasis Mukhopadhyay
The walking bomb / frustrated and scared / cannot focus on green gardens any more…
Breadth of scholarship: these poets reference Darwin and Scheherezade, monarch butterflies and sequoias, American poet Anne Sexton, Sufism and ekphrasis, the rose among thorns, the bird in a cage. These are words born out of the absolute necessity of the poet to speak to us, and in reading them we go on a journey for which we were not – could not ever be – prepared.
This book will have a worthy place on my poetry shelf, one day far into the future, when it has stopped being beside my desk tempting me, every day, to open it and read one more poem.
And I am completely in awe of the sheer reckless bravery of the man who has not only read Kafka, but manages to write poetry about the experience! I am leaving the final words to him.
…-Like a dog! Like a dog! I say and fold the page in a hundred folds to unfold a crease that never comes out.