Morning with my Twin Sister and other poems by Ameerah Arjanee
Published by L’Atelier d’écriture, Mauritius, 2014
Bilingual edition. Translation into French by Sachita Samboo
152 pages, no price indicated
Poetry review by Agnes Marton (Luxembourg/Hungary) Published in The Ofi Press issue 37.
Twenty-year-old Mauritian Ameerah Arjanee’s work has appeared in numerous online publications, including Magma Poetry; in 2010 she won the Foyle Young Poets competition, and she got the Point Barre poetry prize for her poem The Temple. Morning with my Twin Sister is her first full collection.
Arjanee often mentions her main influences: Rumi, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Jane Hirshfield, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Arundhati Roy and Haruki Murakami. While transforming banality, she connects poetry and reflective attitude, establishes a relationship between a form of language and a way of life: “Poetry shouldn’t be left /to saints with single monstrous eyes, / prostitutes who have seen the soft / womb of the city’s gutter, but given / to housewives. Quiet mothers whose greying hair / is tied in loose, graceful buns know poetry. /They cut onions and leek for the soup, / fill reflective Dutch ovens with water and /the sound of water.” (Poetry) She is in endless search, switches from the abstract to the mundane and then back, “in the factory of everyday” (Portrait of Midori). She finds an elegant way to get to The Fish from the fish, then from The Sea to the sea:
You stare at us with your eternal mouth,
kissing and breathing on a bed of crushed
love and permutated ice. You are the Dead
God. Your clamped gills are space’s endlines. We
lift your tail, measure you on silver scales,
us blasphemers. All the while small insects with
shiny wings halo you, like fallen angels of evolution.
It is the fly that makes The Fish repulsive,
the humans who make The Sea dangerous;
not the wet eyes, the fat bones,
the womb smelling of sea.
In her poems sometimes a minute detail (like a colour) makes the connection between down-to-earth and cosmic: “I am wearing a nightdress of pale lavender. /My hands are pale, anaemic. (…) The sky is now powder blue, pale lavender, /dressing the world in its oppressive tenderness.” (Morning with my Twin Sister)
She belongs everywhere but nowhere. “Sometimes, I/ try wearing something else than my skin. / No dresses fit, not my mother’s, not mine.” (Votive for the Absent God) She loves Mauritius but feels tortured there by isolation and by the tourist slogans, by her role there as “a pretty, colourful / dead picture” (Home Sweet Home). She adores Bollywood but at the same time she is mocking it: “his neat skin shining like a piece of moon or/ the product of Kamalchand’s professional makeup” (Bollywood). Many of her poems refer to the Islamic tradition, but always with irony (Temple, Isha, Companionship, Guardian, Miss Aisha, Water, Funeral of a Neighbour). Her recurring motifs are water and blood. In her world gods are statues made of clay, everyone creates his own (Origins). But her real home is poetry, her main ambition is to become the essence of poetry: “To be music, not its listener or creator but / the unreachable idea of it! / To be the snapshot of the dancer’s body, / the flexibility of flesh. To be a lust, a burning wheel /driving into the sands of time and the dark apathy of space. / I want to be a machine of poetry, the cannot name and cannot reach / that is balanced on the edge of a scream by a terrible grace.” (Hunger)
Arjanee’s most memorable poems are multilayered. She uses everyday situations as her starting point but it’s the juxtaposition and the often ironic, rich details that answer her quest for the absolute. Two girls are sneaking into the boys’ toilet: “We feel like rebels (…) / We comb our fringes. Giggle. We have never / been so brave. / Back in the yard, we revise our French verbs. /This is a boys’ school, but we come here/ in the afternoons for French tuitions. We are/ intelligent girls. We wear no perfume, and / we wear skirts that reach our knees./ We sometimes kick a dustbin, and giggle. / We pace the yard like queens (…) We are strangers.” (St. Mary’s College, Rose-Hill)
In another poem her sick grandmother who is supposed to eat only 35g of brown bread steals Oreos from the pantry and gets caught. Later, approaching death, she only wants Allah’s presence.
Domestic violence (and how people shut their eyes to it) is well-described in Marriage is a Mosque: “A broken set of porcelain / tableware; the imaam, kind and ignorant, gives good advice. / »Marriage is a mosque – pray in it, have patience in it, sabr, / women must have sabr, women can –« »Think of your family, / your parents have such a good reputation; the woman waits / and then everything is alright. He is a good man, he has a degree, / his family has no scandal, he wears polished black, black, black shoes.«”
Had it been published in the UK or the USA, and after some badly-needed thorough editing, this collection could be a great success. I’m afraid it remains a hidden gem. As far as I am concerned, I’ll always cherish my copy, and I keep my fingers crossed for Ameerah Arjanee. I foresee bright future for her.