Desert Sunflowers by Rowyda Amin
Flipped Eye Publishing, Flap Series, 2014
Poetry Review by Agnes Marton
Published in issue 39 of The Ofi Press
Winner of the Wasafiri New Writing Prize and the Venture Award, Rowyda Amin (besides her PhD thesis on the topic of identity in Arab Diaspora Fiction) examines identity and self in her pamphlet, Desert Sunflowers. The title might be a clever hint at Desert Flower by Waris Dirie: a UN spokeswoman’s dreams of her native Somalia.
Rowyda Amin, who was born in Canada and brought up in Saudi Arabia, lived in London for more than a decade before moving to the United States. In her poems she balances longing and restlessness, floating and burials, migration and belonging. Her stories are sometimes surreal, showing some magic realism, there’s next to nothing autobiographical in them. Her language is never lazy and dull, she keeps me surprised with her vibrant, organic expressions: “clockless animal” (Genius Loci), “peacock‑feather lakes” (Mojave), “wordless barcarole” (In the Floating World), “taxis cruise black as death’s pyjamas” (Frost Fair), not to mention stanzas like “Hennaed hands torch / like Van Gogh’s beard.” (9 Carrot Poem) In her fantasy world, even cities are connected to nature:
“When she reaches the docks, she will embark
for a city in which the avenues radiate neat as spider‑silk,
where water is locked in aquifers and aloes regular as crystal.”
While reading, I believe her and want to know more and more.
My all‑time favourite is her seemingly simple poem Monkey Daughter (it first appeared in Magma) in which the mother acquires a bay capuchin on her daughter’s birthday, calls it Laura, and puts Laura’s photo on the fridge.
“This one, my mother says, pinning
the monkey’s nappy, will not grow up.”
Back to the title poem, it refers to the atomic test that occurred close to the Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico.
I rarely like (or, honestly, rarely read) “Notes on Poems”. In this pamphlet they are amazing; they reveal Rowyda Amin did research in and got inspired by books including Ordeal by Hunger: the Story of the Donner Party by George R. Stewart, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcaido Hearn and Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children by Michael Newton, and also Marco Polo’s account of tales about Rashid ad‑Din Sinan.
The twenty poems in this pamphlet are very promising, now I am looking forward to Rowyda Amin’s first full collection, I hope it will be available soon.