Translator's notes

The Room of Darkness

By Mona Kareem

The poems here are from Kareem’s third collection, her first for a full twelve years and the first place I read her poetry at length. It is immediately and evidently poetry engaged with the poet’s place in the world, restlessly working its muscles against the weight of language and form and geography. Though far from being purely reactive or descriptive it seems to want to write itself into the possibility of something beyond these deadening inheritances: ‘Words need someone | to scrub them with soap, | need looser clothes | and a stranger who won’t demand they smile.’

The presence of the casual authority of learned behaviours and expectation, and sometimes the embodied mechanisms of family, country, religion and the city, is the dead soil which Kareem turns and brings spikily alive. Cairo’s rain is ‘spit’ but still she dances in it; the sense is of a metaphor inverted: the spit is real, it is the poem which remakes it as rain. Even the heavy despondency of ‘Memories’ points to renewal: everything can be thrown off in an instant for all that the struggle is never done.

The jagged imagery of her poems shears and shapes against deadening accumulation. So much is so passionately invested in the poem’s ability to open possibilities, to walk us away from the paths laid out, even to resist the possibility of being placed within poetry or as a poet. ‘I worry that the question of place will overwhelm every part of myself and reduce me to a one-dimensional person,’ Kareem has written. ‘In this new collection I wanted to establish a subjective praxis for my poetry for myself that had the capability of extending into future writings.’

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