Book Review – If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: June 26th, 2018
Publisher: One World

Composed of raw emotion, memory and urgency, If They Come For Us examines the injustice of war and division. Bloodshed is something that shakes and dismantles the roots of generations, leaving scars on even those who only recall it faintly, or don’t recall it at all. The aftermath doesn’t fade easily – what is lost and the price of what is gained must never be forgotten.

Asghar speaks rich lyrics also on culture, sexuality, and the delicate, haphazard art of growing up. They are unabashed, honest and hint at deeper intricacies. Her words also take a strong stance against all that leads to partition and war – namely misunderstanding or fearing another because their culture is different, without trying to understand them. Prejudice only leads to further prejudice, never to any sense of harmony.

Some were not to my personal taste, as is with any compilation, but I enjoy the collection’s earnest voice as a whole, especially with the earlier poems and the ones with feminist touches. Particular resonant poems for me were “For Peshawar”, “When the Orders Came”, “Boy”, and the disarming “WWE”.

If They Come For Us is sometimes painful and sometimes passionate, even the poems that weren’t my preference are never watered-down or weak in their meaning or choice of words. (The cover artwork is also beautiful, to boot.) I recommend.

Quotes

  • “Aren’t I a miracle? A seed that survived the slaughter & slaughters to come. I think I believe in freedom I just don’t know where it is. I think I believe in home, I just don’t know where to look.”
  • “From the moment our babies are born are we meant to lower them into the ground? To dress them in white? They send flowers before guns, thorns plucked from stem. Every year I manage to live on this earth I collect more questions than answers.”
  • “All the people I could be are dangerous. The blood clotting, oil in my veins.”
  • “Even nature is fractured, partitioned. I want to believe in rebirth, that what comes from death is life, but I have blood from someone’s father’s father on my hands & no memory of who died for me to be here.”

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Note that this was an uncorrected copy and there may be minor changes present in the final print.]

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Book Review – The End of Chiraq by Javon Johnson (Editor)

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry / Social Issues
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Publisher: Northwestern University Press

“Mixing culture for the sake of chaos is a sin. Mixing culture for the sake of love… now, that’s God’s work.” -Demetrius Amparan

Poignant and sobering – simultaneously a love song to the city of Chicago and a desperate cry for it to change, for the rapid and unforgiving cycle of violence to end. I feel unequipped to review this book fully, as I’ve never been to Chicago, so I don’t know what it’s like. I can only imagine from the words of those who have seen it at its best and at its worst.

In these poems and essays lies optimism, faith and hope alongside an overwhelming sense of oppression, aggravated further by factors such as poverty, racism and corruption in law enforcement. There is both criticism and dissection of the term “Chiraq” used to describe the city and its violence. Mariame Kaba warns not to embrace the term, as they feel it leads to negation and “shoving to the side” of serious issues, or worsening them:

“The act of renaming the stolen land upon which they live, considered to be agency by some, perversely seals their fate. […] In ‘Chiraq’, community voices are drowned out. […] ‘Chiraq’ conditions how we think of ourselves and neighbors. It traps us into considering solutions that are steeped in a punishment mindset.”

The End of Chiraq is both a call for action and a call for solace – a thought-provoking anthology with a strong chorus of voices. It is both the songs of pain and beauty, or in the echo of its own words, a flower that is brave enough to rise from the concrete and seek freedom. Powerful, and I recommend to all.

Some essay and poems that stood out to me in particular were “To Live and Die in Chiraq” by Mariame Kaba, “My grandmother tells me…” by Demetrius Amparan, “Concrete Flowers” by Aneko Jackson, “When Asked About Chicago” by Alfonzo Kahlil, and “History as Written by the Victors” by Krista Franklin. I also found the essay by Leah Love on interviewing a female graffiti artist to be fascinating.

 

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]