SEAM, TARFIA FAIZULLAH

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In her powerful debut collection, Seam, poet Tarfia Faizullah weaves together a history of brutality in an unflinching and honest way. What does it mean to carry the weight of your county’s scars? What it left after war, and who pays the price? How do we reconcile our identity and culture when we’re caught between two worlds? These are questions Faizullah set out to ask when she traveled to Bangladesh for one year to interview women who had been raped during the Bangladesh Liberation War. In “Instructions for the Interviewer” Faizullah writes “Once, she will say, I didn’t / know there was a hollow inside // me until he pushed himself / into it,” (lines 1-4). She tells the harrowing stories of these women in a thoughtful and poignant way. Through this, she gives face to the over 200,000 women who were raped.

Many of the poems are titled “Interview with a Birangona.” The term Birangonas is the Bengali word for war heroines. The Bangledeshi state, in an effort to honor these women, now refers to them as this. Despite this effort, family members and friends shunned many of these women and blamed them for the rape. This is best illustrated in the last “Interview with a Birangona” poem, where the speaker asks the interviewee if she went back home after the war: “My grandfather’s // handprint raw across my face. Byadob, / he called me: trouble- // maker. How could you let them / touch you?” (lines 2-6).

What is especially striking about this collection is the speaker’s willingness to acknowledge her own privilege. In the poem, “En Route to Bangledesh, Another Crisis of Faith” says, “because I look like them – / because I am ashamed / of their bodies that reek so / unabashedly of body – / because I can-because I am / an American, a star / of blood on the surface of muscle,” (lines 33-39).

One of my favorite poems in this collection (among so, so many), is “Elegy with Her Red-Tipped Fingers,” which is about the speaker’s deceased grandmother: “ . . . of newsprint dark with Bangla: language I speak / now to your grieving daughter, this language // of bodies of women were once broken / open for. Put up your hair, you will never // again admonish. Please let me see your lovely face” (lines 50-54).

This collection is also special to me because I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Faizullah at Bowling Green University, during the Winter Wheat conference, where she signed my collection. Watching her read gave voice to the poems, and being able to talk to her after was amazing.

The entire book is compromised of just 65 pages. The cover is beautiful, and the poems are riveting in their emotional honesty. This book made me want to know more about the Bangladesh Liberation War, so I did quite a bit of research after my first read. Although research isn’t required (as most of the key points of the war are either explained after poem titles, or within the poem) it enhanced my reading.

Read more about Faizullah by reading this fabulous interview conducted by the Paris Review by clicking here.

Buy the collection here.

(Photo courtesy of poemoftheweek.org).

THE ENDARKENMENT, JEFFREY MCDANIEL

 

9780822959953-11.jpgALL. THE. FEELS.

Some collections make you want to flip over a table because they are just so.damn.good. For weeks, the poems in Jeffrey McDaniel’s The Endarkenment clung to me. I could not put this collection down. I carried it everywhere I went. I read a poem from it to everyone I knew, whether or not they enjoyed poetry (I can be annoying and persistent like that). I wanted to scream “IF YOU DO NOT LIKE POETRY, READ THIS.” His words are explosive, funny, and raw. There is so much character in the speaker, and so many surprising images that will light a fire inside of you.

For example, the poem “Boner Etiquette” is way too amusing and funny not to share:

Please: be kind to boners. Nothing
ruins an evening quicker than catching
a glimpse of a demoralized boner
sobbing into his foreskin. Remember
the boner is always half full. Most
boners sleep upside down in caves,
ready to flutter into the world
at the drop of a bra strap. Boners
move in packs—rarely will you see one
wandering alone in a train station.
Look closer and you’ll usually find
a second boner bobbing nearby. But
it’s the lone boner, the Oswald boner,
you must watch out for. Whatever
you do, don’t challenge it. Don’t
stare it directly in the eye

It’s not likely that you’ll forget this collection. Although many of the poems, even the gloomier ones in the collection, utilize some form of humor, the poems have a lot to say about family and the day-to-day craziness of existing in this world. The last section of the book is also filled with satirical commentary about American politics (read “The Real Dick Cheney”).

In one of my favorite poems, McDaniel characterizes sadness: “Here, / my petite clump of misery, I mutter, hop / onto my lap. Up. Up . . . “ (“Little Sadness,” lines 9-11).

McDaniel.jpgOther poems in the collection I really enjoyed are “The Quicksand Hourglass,” “Air Empathy,” and “The Endarkenment.” The thing about this collection that I love is that there isn’t one consistent emotion woven throughout. I found myself crying and laughing at different points in the book. Every poem moves you in a different way. It’s a highly emotional collection, but not in ways that you would expect.

What originally warmed me up to this book is the cover. It’s a cat sketch (read: CAT), but the cat only has one of its eyes (frowny face).

I had the opportunity to do a short email interview with McDaniel. Check it out here.

Order The Endarkenment from the Pitt Poetry Series here. 

(Photos courtesy of the Pitt Poetry Series)