“Her body is the most treacherous place I have visited” – Seema Yasmin.
Almost immediately, the speaker in Seema Yasmin’s chapbook declares that she comes from “6 generations of shame” (“Polygot,” line 9). What follows this declaration is a series of soul crushing poems that shatter this shame, allowing the filthy woman to emerge as bold and unabashed as ever. For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God explores topics of sexuality, religion, womanhood, and race. Out by Diode Editions, reading Yasmin’s words feel like being let in on a secret: “We shivered and wondered / How a dirty woman / Could make a man so clean” (“Ablution,” lines 19-21). The more poems you read from Filthy Women, the nastier you become, but in Yasmin’s world, it’s all the more empowering.
The speaker in Filthy Women is vulnerable yet transgressive, sinful yet remorseful: “He stood in a puddle of prayers and apologies / Fake apologies because I didn’t really mean to say sorry / For anointing his body” (“Ablution,” lines 12-14). It is Yasmin’s careful balance of these complex and seemingly opposite emotions that is most stunning. In the poem “Astagfirullah (forgive me)” our speaker admits her “need to die clean” then orders us to “read this surah three times before sunrise / This ayah seven times at noon” and then “right at the moment he climaxes inside of you” (lines 28, 29, & 34). Desire is at the heart of so many of Filthy Women’s poems. She can’t help her own rebellion against the people who “Declare our bodies sacred / Then ban us from mosques” but this does not stop her from feeling guilty (“Sister,” lines 13-14). It is these moments that make these poems feel most human and personal to me.
Filthy Women is a brave reflection about what it means to be a Muslim woman who seeks forgiveness even as she hungers to break the norms and cultural standards that oppress her. At its most shocking, Filthy Women acts as an interruption, showing us that the lessons we grow up with are not always sinless: “when I married a Black man / my cousin sighed: at least she is not marrying a woman” (“rebel,” lines 1-2). As our speaker punches a hole through the rules she’s been given, we readers cheer for her, then dip our hands in a little more mud.
View my interview with Yasmin here.
Buy For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Diode Editions: “At Diode Editions our mission is to beautifully craft our books, and to fanatically support our authors.”