I’m lucky this year that the classes I’m taking have exposed me to so many forms of interesting new writing and creative work. I have particularly been enjoying my poetry workshop class and literature class focused on Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood for the way they make me think deeply by analyzing complex work.
Most recently for my poetry class we read Fatimah Asghar’s poetry collection: If They Come For Us.
What impressed me most about her work was the breath of themes and forms that she presented with great skill throughout the collection. Grappling with ideas like coming of age, race, sexuality, and the barriers that divide people, Asghar thoroughly demands her readers’ attention.
The first poem of the collection: “For Peshawar” immediately jolts readers awake with a bit of context: “before attacking schools in Pakistan, the Taliban sends kafan, a white cloth that marks Muslim burials, as a form of psychological terror” and then the first line of the poem, a question: “From the moment our babies are born / are we meant to lower them into the ground?”
Many of Asghar’s poems that follow are deeply historically situated/significant and culturally based. She uses unconventional forms like the crossword, floor plan, bingo card, madlib, and film treatment, alongside more traditional forms like the huzzle and sonnet to shift tone and even sometimes frustrate readers. Her words are infused with such specific, vivid detail and beautiful sound quality that the poems seem to echo in your mind even when you have finished reading.
Some of my favorite poems of the collection are: Partition (the first one on page 9), Kal, Oil, and The Last Summer of Innocence for their rich imagery and deep meanings.
Some of my favorite specific lines are as follows.
- “my skin full of sores / pussing & oozing as the blood fled my body / trying to find anything else to call home” – The Last Summer of Innocence
- “you’re a virgin till you get too drunk. you’re Muslim until you’re not a virgin. you’re Pakistani till they start throwing acid. you’re Muslim until it’s too dangerous. you’re safe until you’re alone. you’re American until the towers fall, until there’s a border on your back.” – Partition (page 9)
I would highly recommend her work if you like poetry that grapples with the political and questions of intersectionality. You can read more of her work on sites like poetry foundation, example linked here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/92374/if-they-should-come-for-us. You can read more about Asghar herself on her website: https://www.fatimahasghar.com. You can also purchase the collection on amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/If-They-Come-Us-Poems/dp/052550978X.