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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor: Selected Poems » User review

before ones who cannot see

  • Mar 11, 2010
A couple years ago after sending in the customer reply card from a previous Copper Canyon Press book, I began receiving their good old-fashioned mailed newsletter. Inside one of those was a snip from A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor. The snip intrigued me. I found more from Maram Al-Massri on the Copper Canyon site. That was enough. I bought the book.

Unlike previous poets I've reviewed, like Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, Maram writes nothing of politics, social issues or larger world events. All of these poems are deeply personal laments on the interactions between women and men. Starkly sexual but not perverse or voyeuristic, the pain of love and betrayal, of using or being used, of wondering what has passed you by and why you let it pass by; there's much to absorb even when the poems themselves are often short.

I've had the book for a year or so and always found it to be quite intense and visceral. There's a certain aspect to the human condition that Maram is brilliant at portraying. The book has taken on new meanings for me now that a turn of events has made me feel like I'm living some of these poems. Wait. The meanings are the same, it's just that now they're closer to my life.

Quick Note: This book is selected poems from I Look To You as well as being all (or not, I don't know) of a previous printing of A Red Cherry on a White-Tiled Floor originally released by another press.

Our world is a strange one. We're taught that lines between genders, countries, cultures, orientations, etc... are supposed to somehow define us, our feelings or our place in the world, yet here's a Syrian woman who absolutely nails the life, feelings and regrets of a white American guy right now. Maram is a master.

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Short, vivid, frankly erotic and remarkable for their emotional intelligence, Syrian poet Al-Massri's poems are as startling in English as they must have been to their first Arabic readers. Her acute renditions of pain and pleasure are more than a bit suggestive of Catullus—or rather a female Catullus, whose mix of the familial and the bodily, of worries about motherhood with expression of lust, first shock, then draw admiration for their concise artistry: Before you fell asleep, a one-sentence poem asks a lover or husband, why did you forget/ to switch off/ the lamp/ of my burning desires? A lover appears in his old cotton clothes/ and his torn socks, the way the need for love/ strips naked. A woman with unconsummated yearnings compares herself to a fruit tree the birds leave alone. A happier woman, at the end of a tryst, will search for pieces/ of my clothes/ to wear me, leaving only tears/ of pleasure behind. Mattawa renders the traditional Middle Eastern forms of Al-Massri's lyric sequences into brief English free verse. The results sound just familiar enough to draw Americans in, just strange enough to keep them in memory.(Nov.)
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ISBN-10: 1556592647
ISBN-13: 978-1556592645
Author: Maram al-Massri
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
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