Poetry - Europe, Love Me Back

Tony Cross read the poetry collection Europe, Love Me Back by Rakhshan Rizwan, now available from The Emma Press ...

This is Rakhshan Rizwan’s first full collection of poems. They are a collection of poems about what it is like to be a Muslim woman in Europe. Not just at home or in the suburb in which she lives but in academia and in any public arena – on the train, at the hospital etc.

What this collection does superbly is make you feel what it is like to be judged, questioned and not accepted because of the way you look or how you speak. For example, one of her poems, ‘A Man is Speaking Urdu on the train and everyone is turning to look at him’, is a brilliant illustration of creeping discomfort at the presence of the ‘other’:

“Already Urdu is starting to breathe
down people’s necks, already it is pouring
itself into their ears, running through the cabin,

clicking open all the windows, letting
the cold draught in. It runs down the walls,
drips into every conversation,

takes a sip of someone’s morning coffee,
breaks a piece of bread, rings
like a giant church bell in a passing town.”

Or more bluntly, as she says in Flaneuse

“How does one walk in a city,
when the city was imagined for others.”

The poetry covers her experiences of hospitals, of her neighbourhood, of academia and of museums and art. Gaze, it seems to me, is at the centre of this collection. How immigrants are seen – or not seen – by the people around them. Or how, as she explains in Passport Skin:

“ No matter what I do,
the Muslim woman in me appears on the scanner,
the mysterious creature covered from head to toe
in whispering scripts, swathed in sacred pashmina
and beaded black oppression.”

It is a collection that makes you aware of the day-to-day loss of dignity and humanity that Europe aims at immigrants from the petty to the large. It is a constant assault on self.

I know, if you’ve read my poetry reviews, you’ll know I am fond of quoting from the ‘Instead of a Preface’ section of Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem:

“In the awful days of the Yezhovschina I passed seventeen months in the outer waiting line of the prison visitors in Leningrad. Once, somebody ‘identified’ me there. Then a woman, standing behind me in the line, which, of course, never heard my name, waked up from the torpor, typical for us all there, and asked me, whispering into my ear (all spoke only in a whisper there):

“And can you describe this?”
And I answered:
“Yes, I can.”

And it is the role of poets to often express the experiences of themselves to explain the experiences of whole groups of people to give them a voice. Rizwan does this superbly. The poet as witness. Again.

Her language is straightforward, but she crafts poems that hit home. ‘In Translation’ ends with one of the best descriptions of how colonialism has erased cultures and traditions without acknowledgment of what they have done.

“That’s all I wish to say to this thing called civilisation:
if it would only step more carefully,
acknowledge the other bodies in the room,
novels littering the table, effaced scripts on the walls,
someone’s love letters falling out of teak shelves,
unravelled turban on the floor.”

I found it a read that makes you feel and think. It’s her first full collection and it is a pretty fine start. I look forward to reading more of what she writes.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - The Emma Press

Powered by Blogger.