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Friday, 22 January 2021

Book Review: What the Wind Cannot Handle

Tunisian Poet Fatma Ben Mahmoud discusses freedom, pain, and love in her latest collection of poems

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Thursday 14 Jan 2021
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Views: 1339

Ma La Taqder Alieh Al-Reeh (What the Wind Cannot Handle), Fatima Ben Mahmoud, Mayara Publishing, Tunisia, 2019

The rules of modern poetry are ambiguous; they do not follow the classical rules of rhyming, and this non-rhyming makes it hard to retain or memorise. Many old school critics consider that this is not poetry in the first place. For many, free form poetry is a challenge to write, read, or appreciate.

Tunisian Poet Fatma Ben Mahmoud took on that challenge in her last poem collection Ma La Taqdar Alieh Al-Reeh. 

The poet divided her poems into four small collections with different titles. In each of them, she tried to maintain the same type of poems whether in the form, length, or subjects, but the rebellious poet was not successful in following through with that idea. 

Ben Mahmoud started her collection with a promising poem entitled Initiation:

“For the first time I see a prison/ big enough for butterflies/ children/ trees/ and cities/ I see a large enough prison/ in the size of a homeland” 

Expressing the lack of freedom that exists in this world, a feeling that all artists all over have felt at one point or another; Ben Mahmoud expressed it in her own words, echoing an oppression as old as the existence of man on earth. There was never total freedom on earth and probably never will be.

Then Ben Mahmoud turned to speaking on behalf of objects. In a poem called Pain:

“The audience is cheering / for the painting hanging on the wall/ yet no one/ has pity/ for the nail’s/ agony.”

The poet here showed care for an object that is unable to express itself, or better yet, does not have feelings in the first place. The purpose is symbolism and projecting feelings that in day-to-day life people ignore, crush, or simply overlook.

Giving a name like pain for such a poem was certainly not a good idea; among all the pain that exist in the world, she decided to shed light on the pain of a nail, a ridiculous pretentious way to show some non-existent compassion for an object, what does she want the reader to feel? Is there a point to these lines; doubtful.

In her poem “Treason” the sea plays a role: 

“I knew that the sea was spying on us/ sprays us when our laughter become high/ smiles / when we drink tea / and gossip about our friends/ I knew that the waves played melodies for us/ whenever we hummed an old song/ then they calmed totally when we kissed/ I knew that we would part ways afterwards/ and the sea won’t care about me/ when I collect my heart’s wreckage/ on the shore”

This is among the few poems where Ben Mahmoud tries to paint a realistic picture that could have happened to most people, a poem that the reader can relate to, but again, who is the traitor? the sea!?

The same criticism about the title applies, it should reference the other party, but the poet plays on the idea of absurdity. The sea is conscious and is blamed for not caring. Humans have always had their conversations with the sea, but the heroine in this poem is not having one. She is accusing it of something that “it” is not responsible for; mending her heart or caring about it cannot be the sea’s obligation.

She redeems herself in A Small Girl where she describes the feeling of love:

“I go to love a woman/ and get back to being a girl/ pulling behind her toys/ her cats and butterflies/ pulling the honest lie of love/ no solace for a grown woman/ carrying childhood riot/ and imagined sobriety”

This poem describes almost every woman in love, they return to being happy young girls, love brings them back to happy childhood, playing with toys with butterflies in their bellies, knowing that being reserved in life does not apply when in love.

In this poem she reveals how love feels like to anyone who falls to that magical emotion. 

The theme of love manifests itself again in The Forgotten Garden:

“The flower that hangs on the garden’s fence/ lazily/ becomes full of joy/when a lover puts it in a book’s page/ Whenever a lover sets foot in the garden/ flowers sway … flirtingly/ seducing him/ A flower in the hand of a lover/ is prouder than the rest of the flowers in the garden”

The poet impersonating flowers in such a smooth loving way, brings joy to the reader, her imagination flies in just a few words to spread joy and celebrate love.

Overall, the collection has the free form poetry gaffe, it will probably not pass the test of time. Despite some good ideas and touching on emotions, it will not be remembered.

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