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staircase, zein sa’dedinThe jacket follows the standard ignition press design, a vertical blue band to the left, then two thirds of the jacket to the right in black. Title and author are in lower case white font, justified right in the bottom right hand corner. A design of coloured triangles (one orange, one blue, one yellow) floats in the main black area, the yellow triangle crossing with its point into the blue band. Three empty squares, but outlined in yellow, intersect with the three triangles.

ignitionpress, 2021      £6.00

Negotiating the stairs

I was attracted to the exotic world of these poems, and at the same time excluded. I felt I was in a foreign country and needed — often literally — a glossary.

I love Arabic script so I welcomed phrases and lines in it. But some anglicised words were mysteries. Monosyllables like ‘ana’, ‘bas’, ‘bi’ and ‘wa’ looked simple but — what did they mean? The choice of consistently lower-case type meant it was hard to guess whether an unknown word was a place/person/song, or thing/idea.

So in ‘double date with fairouz and a special guest / in amman, jordan’, I had no idea what to make of some lines:

al amman they breathed          is dead
                             wa ana bas its wounds

Was ‘al amman’ a place or a person? What did ‘wa ana bas’ mean?

I felt stupid. I am ashamed to say I didn’t know ‘fairouz’ was a world-famous singer.

And yet as I read on, it was like visiting an art gallery, where the work on show was abstract but alluring. Certain lines, stanzas — even whole poems — popped up that continue to haunt me. For example, the ending of ‘tonight al qamar writes a sonnet’:

                                    habeebati

tell me           have you ever had anything
as delicious        as sleep

The long concluding poem, ‘fairouz is searching for a pair of eyes’ is in twelve parts — effectively half the publication. Here relationship, rather than location, is central, and this gave me a human thread that drew me through. So for me, reading the second half of the pamphlet first was a helpful approach. 

At last, in the right context, ‘wa’ (meaning ‘and’) started to make sense, adding spice and colour rather than barrier. The ‘stair’ shape of some of the poems began to look like stairs I could climb with interest and pleasure. I’ll conclude with the beautiful last three stanzas of the final long poem (photographed so you can see the right justification and the Arabic script):

Helena Nelson

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