The cover of Jamali Rad’s book depicts a building and an outdoor courtyard with slab benches. The structures, composed of concrete, appear stark and cold; the building is windowless and the only opening shown resembles a black, cave-like entrance. What is beyond this opening? Is it safe to enter? The building’s lines are crisp and clean-looking though, and despite the harshness the photograph presents, there is an abundance of light. A round table sits beside a pillar, the only indication of softness in the photograph. Perhaps, like Jamali Rad’s crisp and sharp language this is no time for softness, no time to be comfortable. It’s time to enter the language, to discover what lies beyond.
The poet introduces us to her prose poems and reading from them, I am struck by the similarity to Stein’s poem, “If I Told Him” with its repetition of phrasing; “Don’t force it. Don’t force me…Don’t. Force the tears to be wiped away”, forces us to examine the structure of the poem, to emphasize the content of the poem; it surrounds us with repetition. (5, l.2-4) Also, by placing the punctuation differently, the poet is telling us to pay attention to the situation. In this case we see, “The meaning of the tears to be wiped away, is wiped away”, changes the significance of the sentence. (5, l.6)
Many of the poet’s poems portray women in confinement; ‘a body/ like a factory’ she indicates in her poem ’sea of woes’, and again further in the piece she writes ‘violence at the hands/of the street corner’ showing us not much has changed in the attitude towards women. (27, l.4,5, 10,11) She writes these poems hoping language will change or bring attention to their plight.
Under the section ‘assembly/line’ in her poem ‘in process of wanting’, the poet raises the issue of ‘raising wages’ which she asserts ‘excites a fictitious/primordial condition’. We think the more we earn the better life will be but Jamali Rad writes we ‘become poorer/the more wealth/ and/ become ever cheaper/ a commodity,’ that our lives are reduced to commodity, that this wanting ‘to inhabit the language’ drives our lives more into debt so that we become all the poorer. What price freedom? What does it cost us? What do we lose? Sacrifice? They are enticing, the extra baubles outside our needs for food, shelter and warmth. . (58, l. 2, 3, 10, 11, 18, 19)
In the portion ‘women make things’, the poet’s poem ‘politics of attack’ resembles a broken structure with its sentences scattered across the page. Yet there is structure here, a gathering of thoughts to show us that despite the placement of words, despite ‘bodies confined/by the mechanisms of production’, there is a gathering force wanting to break free. (87, l.9, 10) It is the poet’s presentation which alerts us to the condition of words as well as women needing to be free of restraint, to be able to express their autonomy and claim their position, a new position in communication.
We see many things when we read poetry and I feel Jamali Rad’s poetry is significant. It will require many readings with much discussion to appreciate the value of her contribution to the world of language.
For Love and Autonomy
By Anahita Jamali Rad
Talon Books, 2016
97 pp., $16.95, paperback
Mary Barnes is a writer living in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.