My first encounter with Mona Kareem’s work was not her poetry, but her essay in Poetry Birmingham on the trend of Western poets “translating” from languages they are not literate in. Kareem brings attention to what she calls the “colonial phenomenon of rendition as translation,” in which a poet effectively workshops a rough translation done by a native speaker or someone who is otherwise literate in the original language. Often, this is the only way acclaimed writers reach Western audiences. I was excited, then, to see that I Will Not Fold These Maps, Kareem’s first collection translated to English, defies this trend. Presented with the original Arabic alongside the English translated by Egyptian poet and journalist Sara Elkamel—for whom this work is a debut full-length translation—this book is a mixture of Kareem’s previously collected work alongside brand new poems, presenting a great overview of her work. I Will Not Fold These Maps’s execution as a collaboration between Arab poet-translators only strengthens the experience of reading it, filled with poems that vividly explore exile, grief, and writing and its relationship to resistance.
“My way is so long, so long, but my road is foggy, foggy,” reggae legend Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, chants on his 1980 song “Road Foggy.” The beat sways underneath him like a horse plodding on a mountain track, and the horns sound muted and distant through the mist. It’s a song about the song as journey, a track that feels like it’s never meant to end. You travel not to get to get to the end of sound, but to luxuriate in it. As Spear said in an interview, “If I walk away from music, I walk away from myself.”
Colin Channer includes that quote and the line from “Road Foggy” in several poems in his recently released second collection Console (FSG). The volume is suffused in dub and reggae recordings he loves from his homeland. Dub is not just something left behind, though. It’s also a metaphor for the way that Channer’s own experience and existence makes Jamaica live in his new home of New England, and vice versa. Music creates an imagined space in which disconnection is its own coherent landscape. The consolation is that the places you go are both where you’ve been and who you are.
Happy May! Our 25th issue launches on Monday, bringing you a portfolio of unforgettable writing from Kuwait, poems about rodents, car washes, and colonization, and prose pieces about art, religion, albatrosses, and snowcats. In this installment of Friday Reads, Issue 25 contributors reflect on some of their favorite books.
In middle age, many women find themselves members of the sandwich generation: those who are caregivers to both their elderly parents and young children. Such is the fate of Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux), the heroine of Mia Hansen-Løve’s sneakily powerful drama. Set in Paris, Sandra’s story also unfolds in the busy landscape of midlife. She’s both a widowed mother to her school-aged daughter, Linn, and a dutiful daughter to her elderly father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), who is suffering from Benson’s Syndrome, a rare, neurodegenerative disease. In the film’s opening scenes, we see Sandra hurrying from work to visit with her father before picking her daughter up from school. It seems she’s figured out a way to balance everything, but it’s also clear that it can’t last. Georg can no longer open the door without coaching from Sandra or prepare food for himself without help. His disease affects his vision and his memory, and Sandra has to remind him that she works as a translator, and that his favorite author is Thomas Mann. A former philosophy professor, Georg lives alone in an apartment filled with books he can no longer read. He survives thanks to visits from his daughters, Sandra and Elodie, his ex-wife Françoise, and his long-term girlfriend, Leila.
Much of One Fine Morning is concerned with Georg’s decline, and the struggle to move him out of his apartment and to find affordable long-term care. This process is long, drawn-out, and extremely sad for everyone involved. But it’s not the only dramatic thing happening in Sandra’s life: she’s also falling in love with an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a married father whose son goes to school with her daughter Linn. It’s Sandra’s first serious relationship since her husband’s death, and it’s immediately intense. The convergence of these two psychically seismic events is what give One Fine Morning its dramatic shape, but it’s the attention to Sandra’s daily activities which gives it a texture that feels remarkably true to life. Sandra may be in a difficult transitional period, with big emotions roiling underneath the surface, but she still needs to get on the bus and head to work; she still has to pick up her daughter from school; she still has to plan for vacations, celebrate holidays, and figure out what on earth to do with all of her father’s books.
Love Will Remain: A Film Review of “One Fine Morning”
Things are finally warming up here in Western Mass: old snow banks are melting and fuzzy buds are popping up on the trees. Our spring issue—which features a portfolio of stunning fiction from Kuwait, apocalyptic poetry, a Ramadan romance, and a story about a dog in a Texas barrio—launches in just a few short weeks. If you’re wondering where these writers get their inspiration, look no further than this round of Friday Reads.
There is an undeniable poetry to transportation. The reverie of a train roping across land, the intrepidity of a boat charting depthless waters, the surrealism of an aircraft cutting through cloud—all tracing paths like storylines across terrain, all positioning the passenger as an Odyssean protagonist. In Bilbao-New York-Bilbao, Kirmen Uribe takes the family novel to the skies. Originally written in Basque and published in 2008, this latest edition was published in 2022—translated by American poet Elizabeth Macklin and featuring an incisive new foreword by Lebanese-American writer Youmna Chlala. The first of Uribe’s four novels, Bilbao-New York-Bilbao won the 2009 National Prize for Literature in Spain. True to the timelessly familial tendency of many debut novels, its narrative pulse is Uribe’s desire to excavate his ancestral past, collaging testimonies from disparate historical voices into a cohesive portrait.
Welcome to the March round of Friday Reads! As we wait for the weather to warm up (and for our twenty-fifth issue to come out), The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns bring you book recommendations that explore love, identity, hope, and flaws.
Documentary filmmaker Alice Diop brings an unsettling sense of reality to her first fiction feature, which follows a novelist attending the trial of a woman accused of drowning her 15-month-old child. Based on a real-life incident of infanticide, the courtroom proceedings depicted in Saint Omer borrow from the 2016 trial of Fabienne Kabou, which Diop herself attended. In synopsis, this may sound like a lurid mix of fiction and documentary, but this precise and emotionally complex film, which sprung from Diop’s fascination with Kabou’s trial, does not have the anxiety-stoking energy of a true-crime story. It is so rooted in the point of view of Rama, the writer attending the trial, that I hesitate to describe it as a courtroom drama. The film’s dual focus—on both Rama, the writer, and Laurence, the young woman accused of infanticide—turns the trial into something other than pure spectacle and results in a story that looks closely at the frighteningly powerful bond between mother and child.
Welcome back to Friday Reads! Here in Western Mass, a frigid February is upon us—a perfect excuse to stay inside with a good book. Need help finding that perfect read? Look no further than these recommendations from The Common’s contributors.
I think Anne Enright should be a superstar. Not that Anne Enright works in obscurity—her 2007 novel The Gathering won the Booker Prize. But if there was any justice to literary success, there would be think-pieces about whether Anne Enright is overrated. People would be so used to hearing that Anne Enright is one of the greats that, in their suspicion, they’d assume she must be too mainstream to be good. But then they’d read her and discover that she is, actually, one of the greats; they would see in her impeccable prose the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy that makes the tragic a little funny and the comic a little sad. If I had it my way, Anne Enright would have to tell fans that she would just like to have dinner in peace. I’m not sure Anne Enright would enjoy this level of fame, but she would certainly have something interesting to say about it.
Happy new year! If you’re hoping to read more in 2023, we’ve got just the thing for you: exciting book recommendations from our contributors. From reportage that reads like a page turner to romance against the backdrop of political turmoil, these exhilarating books are perfect for cozying up somewhere warm.