Smith/Doorstop Books, 2008 £4.00
In these elegant poems, Yvonne Green delves into a wealth of family stories and memories to bring to the page a rich picture of Judeo Tajik culture. Many of her poems express an assumption that the reader is unfamiliar with the customs and way of life they describe. In 'Our Food' she describes how eggs were cooked:
with an onion skin and left to coddle overnight
so that their shells looked like dark caramel, their flesh
Throughout the poem words are italicised and explained:
Our eggs, called tehumi osh sevo
The reader is being invited in to a culture of which it is assumed they are unfamiliar. Beneath the seemingly straightforward descriptions of cooking, or cultural dress however, there lie other darker and more threatening aspects of Yvonne Green's heritage. The opening poem 'Souriya' establishes the link between food or home with betrayal and injury that resurfaces throughout the poems. A man's conversation is recollected, in which he repeats his mother's warning that:
you can eat a mountain of salt with someone
and still you cannot know them.”
He asks, (rhetorically):
So how could I know what she would do to me?
It is not made clear to the reader who the narrator is or the nature of the betrayal involved. The poem is an unsettling opening to the collection, and a promise of further troubles in the poems ahead. This threat becomes more apparent in 'There's a different history' in which the (insularity) of the family (harbours) violence, the men
leaving and returning with buttoned lips, only released
in the intensity of the household...
and the narrator remembers writing:
a dictionary of its words: alephi osh, coriander, badvachta, poor thing,
coporoytisheva, let me be sacrificed to save you from harm.
I would not want to give an impression that these poems are in any way melodramatic. On the contrary, Yvonne Green communicates the complexity of the lives she describes with apparent honesty and considerable dignity. Her skill lies in her observation of detail and choice of imagery to communicate larger (themes). The (picture) of the fiancés photographed kissing "supposedly for the first time" and the description of a language that has many words for family members but no word for "astronaut" stayed with me long after I finished reading.
Po-Rating (6 raters)
Highest rating: 8 Lowest: 5
Stripes (out of 10) = 7