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.
SARA FREEMAN‘s arresting, lyrically economical Tides has been generating buzz from the likes of Time Magazine, The New York Times, and Lit Hub since it was released last year. The Guardian calls this fragmentary, feminist novel “an experimental study in grief.” But what does it mean to write a feminist novel, these days, and to dwell in your characters’ grief? And how do experimental writing forms intersect with feminism?
MELODY NIXON sat down with Freeman, her graduate-school colleague, to discuss Tides; its liminal setting; what it’s like when we hear our characters’ voices in our heads; the ways that novels might ruin our lives; and the anxiety “of near-constant potential narrative collapse” that Freeman navigated while writing this extraordinary debut.
Sentences Worth Keeping: Melody Nixon Interviews Sara Freeman
It is Ramadan in Saint-Denis, the banlieue north of Paris. It is almost 21:00h on a June Sunday, and the sun hangs a hazy orange in the sky. The elevator in Amir’s building is broken so we climb the six stories, past the floors of muffled French Arabic and children’s screams. His mother’s home has one bedroom and a narrow tile-floored kitchen, like the one in my grandmother’s apartment in Beijing. There is a cigarette lighter for the stove, but I am too clumsy for this, so Amir manages.
Around noon on those April days, my father would do his best to stop me from going out. After lunch, he’d stomp around the house locking all the doors: the kitchen, the front door, the back door, the main living room. Sometimes he’d even try to drag me to his bedroom and force me to take a nap.
During her worst fits, my waters couldn’t drown out her cries. Stacking plates, cups, spoons, and knives, her fists flailed against the sides of my bowl; she’d stare at the gushing water stream, her head slackened against her chest.
In a departure from daily routine, she went on an angry, blabbering rampage, hurling her son’s glass pill bottles into my lap, smashing cups and plates, and turning on the faucet. Water and bits of glass floated everywhere—oh, my, I got so dizzy and regurgitated the larger pieces that had lodged in the drain.
She kept kicking me as I coughed my guts up, and she smashed more plates with the skillet.
The specter of her son appeared, grabbed her wrist firmly but tenderly, and wrapped his arms around her from behind. She stopped and breathed a deep sigh but didn’t raise her head or turn around.
“Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.” —Marcel Duchamp, Life magazine, 1952
For many years I hardly told anyone that my grandmother’s sister Teeny was married to Marcel Duchamp, and before that to Pierre Matisse, the art dealer son of Henri. Friends I’ve known all my life have stopped me in disbelief when these facts have come up in passing—a disbelief arising not from the facts themselves but from my never having shared them. The first time I ever mentioned the connection to anyone outside the family, I was in college, sitting in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Avenue with my professor, the poet David Shapiro. “Wait,” he said, “Teeny Duchamp is your great aunt?!” I was surprised he knew exactly who she was.