When grasping a nettle…

Posted on July 27, 2012

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The world is in chaos and the woman is looking for a partner – Bahraini proverb

It’s so long since I read a collection of poems that I wasn’t sure how to approach it.   Rather like grasping a nettle I thought.  If you don’t do it boldly you’ll come out in a rash. Let it know you’re not afraid. It works with nettles – honestly. So I kept approaching it and kept pulling back at the last minute.  I had to get in the right frame of mind. I put in some practice attending a friend’s poetry reading.  I sat in a small bookshop on a balmy evening (we do have them here sometimes) with a large glass of middling white, surrounded by verse groupies, and remembered what it was like to be young and earnest.   The marvellous George Chopping (marvellous said in a Margaret Rutherford accent is simply the perfect adjective for George) didn’t disappoint.  His poems are funny and seemingly straight forward, but they catch you out like a clever pun and it slowly dawns that George is a very, very clever man indeed.[1]

So, slightly hungover (nettles would know this and punish you), I finally picked up Laala Kashef Alghata’s Behind the Mask.   The reviews for this collection have been universally effusive.   This is enough to make me read them askance.  It’s a collection of love poems – askance again.  “We can make our own cards by folding our hearts in half and maybe someday giving them to that special one who looks at us through a rain-speckled window and smiles.”   By now I’m so askance I’m doing a Linda Blair impression.    But this is unfair.   This collection is not be sneered at.  Laala’s poems are open and honest and, if a little naïve, passionate. They surprise in that they describe a Middle-Eastern country that looks very much like our own, blowing away dry stereotypes. They show a place in which a young Muslim girl can talk about the feelings any young girl feels when looking for love – the emotional and physical yearning of teenage.  But here’s my problem, from the first poem, I felt a sense of embarrassed recognition.  These are the poems you write in locked notebooks in a stuffy bedroom when you’re young.   The uncomfortable nakedness of adolescent emotions grown out of.  The school reunion with people you no longer have anything in common with.  I tried to let that go, to read them for their use of language, but I couldn’t.   I whole-heartedly apologise to Laala for this.  She is far more talented than I ever was or ever will be and doesn’t deserve any criticism.

At the back of the collection is a paragraph about the poet.  She wrote the collection aged 16 so perhaps I should tread more softly.


[1] My favourite pun – A good pun is its own reword!

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