Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Longlisted for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, The Healing Next Time, by the former Poet Laureate of Birmingham, Roy McFarlane, comprises three sequences of poems that rage against the violence inflicted on Black people by the state. Reminiscent of poems like Di Great Insohrekshan and Inglan is a Bitch by Linton Kwesi Johnson, which were written in the wake of the New Cross Fire and the Brixton Uprisings of 1981, The Healing Next Time moves the story on another 30 or 40 years and, sadly, shows how little has changed.

The first sequence, ‘New Millennium Journal’ records moments – public and private – in the life of a man referred to as ‘the activist’ or ‘the family man’ between 1999 and 2007 – weaving together his relationship with his wife, his lover, his mother and his children with events such as the Brixton bombings and the Bradford riots

The second sequence, ‘...they killed them,’ is written in honour of some of those who have died in police custody – some well known, like Joy Gardner, Cherry Groce, Mark Duggan, Rashan Charles, but many others whose names and stories have been forgotten or were never heard.

In the final sequence, ‘Gospel According to Rasta,’ Rasta becomes a personification of everything that drives McFarlane to write.

One poem in particular in the third sequence jumped out at me. I first saw Chris Ofili’s painting No Woman No Cry when Freedom From Torture’s Write to Life Group were creating poems based on art works in the Tate Gallery. Here it inspires McFarlane just as then it inspired Ugandan torture survivor Jade Amoli Jackson.

Powerful poetry with a voice and rhythm that leaps off the page.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Agard

Avoid If You Dislike: Powerful political poetry

Perfect Accompaniment: Roast breadfruit, ackee and saltfish.

Genre: Poetry

Available on Amazon

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

It’s Not About the Burqa (ed. Mariam Khan)

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought Of It:

“Being among peers asks us [...] to delve into the granularity of our experiences as Muslim women beyond the obvious.”

This quote from ‘Life Was Easier Before I Was Woke’ by Yassmin Midhat Abdel-Magied sums up why this collection of essays, put together by Mariam Khan, makes it possible to present a rarely seen complex and nuanced picture of Muslim women in Britain today.

There are women here who wear the hijab, the veil or other forms of Islamic dress, and others who reject it entirely. There are women whose families came originally to Britain from all parts of Africa and Asia, as well as those with complex combinations of heritage. They include journalists, poets, novelists, publishers, lawyers, an engineer, a comedian ...

In the course of these essays they take on the fashion industry, toxic masculinity, White Feminism, mental health, sexuality and women’s legal rights (to name just a few).

Some of the stories show how savage the backlash can be from society when Muslim women step outside the bounds of what is defined as a Good Immigrant and dare to speak up for themselves. And yet they continue to do so.

As Afsham D’souza-Lodhi says in 'Hijabi (R)evolution': “I’m done engaging in conversation with people who don’t understand that human beings are complex. That I can wear a hijab and a dress. That I can be queer and Muslim. That I can exist.”

A book that smashes into smithereens every stereotype of Muslim women so assiduously pursued by our mainstream media. Read it!

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Good Immigrant (ed. Nikesh Shukla), The Things I Would Tell You (ed. Sabrian Mahfouz)

Avoid If You Dislike: Seeing your preconceptions torn to shreds

Perfect Accompaniment: An open mind and a listening ear

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays

Available on Amazon