April is National Poetry Month, so, naturally I chose reading a book of poetry as this month’s prompt for the Just One More Pa(i)ge Reading Challenge. And, as it’s my last review post for the month, it’s time to share my thoughts on it with you! I don’t normally read poetry and I love using these prompts as a way to spread my literary horizons. I saw some reviews for this collection over the past few months and it sounded like a great choice…so here we are.
If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar
As I’ve already said, I really do not read a lot of poetry. I think the last collection was Milk and Honey, over a year ago. And other than that, it’s been more novels written in verse than anything else, like The Poet X and Long Way Down. So, bear in mind that I don’t have a lot to compare this to, but I have to say that this was an incredibly unique and creative collection. The forms that Asghar used ranged from a typical free-verse style to crossword puzzles, floorplans, mad-libs and more. I loved this reading experience because, if I’m honest, I think my ideas about poetry are just very antiquated, harkening back to what I had to read in high school. This collection flips all those assumptions about conventional formats on their heads. I really appreciate that and recommend this collection to anyone who thinks that they are not a poetry person.
As far as the topics, Asghar really covers a lot of ground. She talks about everything from growing up an orphan (her parents died when she was young) to recovering emotionally from experiences with sexual assault to recognition of the historical atrocities of [the India-Pakistan] Partition to the current political climate in the United States (and what that means for immigrants) to duality of [national] identity to the different meanings of family to sexuality and coming of age. The poems are expressive and tangible and encompassing and, at times, even sensual. I truly felt the urgency of all of Asghar’s emotions, her anger and mourning combine with her compassion and feelings of well-being in smooth coexistence. Her own presence is very strong on every page and after finishing I feel as though I have a full (if not as deep as her own, of course) understanding of her conflicting experiences and sentiments. It’s just such a striking collection, visually and literarily (I made that word up I think…) expressive.
And now, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite poems/lines, because some hit me so hard and I just cannot get them out of my mind.
How We Left: Film Treatment – This was such an incredibly creative and full piece, exploring the topic of partition and forced migration and genocide from so many perspectives and from so many different angles. I actually think this might be one of my favorite pieces of writing ever. I read in the afterward that it won a few awards and l both am not surprised and completely agree that it deserves that kind of recognition.
Lullaby – A gorgeous poem written for Asghar’s sister. It’s beautiful and sorrowful and made me sigh deeply, out loud, at the end. Just wonderful.
Script for Child Services: A Floor Plan – SO visually striking, as well as topically so, in a way that I cannot get out of my mind. Oh my goodness, my heart.
They Asked For a Map – I feel the pain and anger so strongly here. And Asghar calls out the ridiculousness of the politics of Partition (both regarding this particular one, and in a more general sense about separation/walls) in a way I cannot truly describe. You just have to read it.
Microagression Bingo – Creative and absolutely unforgiving in its clarity and exemplification of what microagressions are and how universally present they are.
National Geographic – The use of the “not-me” language as a device really got me. I’m not sure what it was about it, but I really felt the message of this poem deeply.
And some specific lines that spoke to me:
“when we sleep they wake / opposite sides of the world / the planet opens a tunnel / where they meet: dirt sky & worm / stars. the lovers dance, / all night, their way back”
“my knees wobble on the edge / of what I should be & what I am. / at the end of my sight I dream a world / brimming with my contradictions”
“for the fire my people my people / the long years we’ve survived the long / years yet to come I see you map / my sky the light your lantern long / ahead & I follow I follow”