Father, Husband by Scherezade Siobhan
Salò Press, 2016
112 pages – Salò
Scherezade Siobhan is an island newly and suddenly erupted from the froth of cyber poetry. Siobhan has forged a singular, expansive, incantatory voice that rolls and crashes like waves in the night; one is not sure where one is, but there is a sense of overwhelming immensity just ahead. Her first book, Bone Tongue, was published by Thought Catalog last year. Her latest, and first full-length book, is Father, Husband, published by Salò Press. Though she has sometimes been put in the Surrealist camp, her verse is more Expressionist, language brought to an ultimate pitch, full of psychic resonance:
A language that makes boats out of our bones. A
language that silhouetted a thousand and one storms
for our twin ships. A language that lassoes the rope
of my tongue through the picket fence of your
perfect teeth. The language that nests my wrists in
the sierra of your shoulder-blades
d (from “Rorschach”)
It is not an exaggeration, nor is it overreaching to say that these poems have that elusive duende, a primal, bloody, incantatory element, “a power, not a work,” Lorca explains. “It is a struggle, not a thought.” Siobhan, who is herself of Indo-Roma identity, an heiress of the cante jondo, the deep song, writes in this vein of power, passion, struggle, and trauma: “i summon duquende’s / sepulchral howl. it has syllables like paper swans, it / has hellbound verse that stirs a controversy worthy / of the most spanish red” (from “everything i know about a cante jondo or the deep song of my father’s country”). These poems seem more meant to be spoken and heard, rather than read. These are poems that want a body.
The poem “come palabra” showcases Siobhan’s fierce engagement with the language of heritage, the heritage of language: “say roma and birthright / the rhotic r. let it mother / your chest’s cradle / in a jaguar gnarr.” “Jaguar gnarr” is itself an enviable construction, especially as it complements “the rhotic r.” But there is more going on here than rhyme and rhythm; it is a reclamation of individual and cultural identity: “bring a gypsy to viva / voce the genocide, come, lingua obscura…” “Come” and variations of “to say” are repeated throughout the poem, as well as throughout the collection itself. It is an invocation, an invitation to “viva voce,” to speak into being, to resurrect: “come, caravanserai’s alizarin bathed / courtyard, come with the colonized / hosannas, come with a thousand marigolds planted between your thighs…”
“Jibril” feels the most straightforward and conversational, but it is still very raw. It begins with an admission: “The moment I come apart is not copious, / pronounced or even remotely apocalyptic.” The poem seems to subvert its own poeticness, saying “this is not poetic, but must be made into a poem”; it is almost an anti-poem. The voice is weary: “Everything already exists and I do not feel the need to grow into anything else.” What is left to be done? Is there anything left to accomplish? What is there to do but “to busy the day with something quotidian, something that can only be evidenced in peripheral vision—embassy visits, forms, phone calls, funding, grant applications.” The words “depression” or the more fashionable “ennui” do not seem to do this feeling justice. It is a deep, chronic, existential hopelessness. Or perhaps I am reading too much into it.
With her use of sustained, vowelled cadences, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, juxtaposition, (“come, my beloved / come, my backstabber / my defiant, my devoted / my pacifists, my paladins”), and a sensuous symbolism, Siobhan has forged an inimitable voice, and it is this voice that ineluctably carries the poems:
unend me / shipwreck me / bullfight me / i am your / war to word / bird to birth / feathered as fog / gray me up / stray me down / cradle & conch / pigeonpulsed / room & radio (from “querido”)
It is not a style or voice one usually comes across even in current Anglo-American writing. English-language literature has always tended toward the concrete, the vernacular, and the mundane—de rigueur of the MFA institutions. It still has not quite severed the bonds of puritanism, materialism, utilitarianism, empiricism, pragmatism, and all the other respectable English -isms that have tended to stunt vision and imagination, while looking askance or outright glaring at passion, expressionism, virtuosity, and the visionary. But Siobhan is not an Anglo-American writer; she is not of the MFA institution; she defies de rigueur. And though the poems are beautiful in and of themselves, they are not merely so. There is much at stake in these poems: identity, trauma, fear, anger, and love despite it all.
Michael Julian Arnett‘s work has appeared in BOAAT, The Portland Review, The Review Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Eunoia Review, and others. He holds an MFA from Pacific University and resides in Northern California.