Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A review: White Blight by Athena Farrokhzad, translated by Jennifer Hayashida

A review: White Blight

by Athena Farrokhzad
translated by Jennifer Hayashida
published by Argos Books

Athena Farrokhzad's White Blight startled me from the moment it slipped out of the envelope and onto my kitchen table. It is silver.
It looks like a gorgeous piece of metal.
It reflects everything.

The design is smart and stinging.
The whole damn thing is redacted.
Every line is white type etched in black.

I sat down to take a first look at it. I just wanted to leaf through it, but I read the book to the end.
It scared the hell out of me. It is very good.
I didn’t look inside the book again for weeks.

Exile. Racism. No home; the here-home.
Holding the separate parts of yourself in your teeth, wondering what you can spit out or keep. The killing of the parents to make oneself whole. Love of family and their inescapable press.
Farrokhzad’s lines ring these truths in a new way.

“My mother said: Do not bury me here
Bury me where the veneer of civilization has peeled
Spit out my language, return the milk to me”

How much must the poet risk?
Farrokhzad shows us: The mother takes her fucking milk back.

White Blight fulfills beautifully the open promise, what I think of as the existential lie of poetry: that you can tell all the truth. This is how a hopeless person reads a poem and believes it. I believe everything here and I love it.

White Blight followed me around my apartment. It was in the living room; it was in the kitchen. Then it was on the bookcase beside my bed. Gleaming in the light. Daring me again to read it again. The lines were singing in my head.

“My father said: There were those who were executed at dawn before sleep cleared
My mother said: There were those who had to pay for the bullets
to bury their daughters”

“My uncle said: Is there a puddle where war has not washed its bloody hands”

“My brother said: Some day I want to die in a country
where people can pronounce my name”

“My father said: We are still there, even if time has separated us from the place”

The white type peers out of the black background and I am careful, almost like I have to find the words or pull them out – I work a little harder to see and it brings me in, like reading invisible ink.

What is the tool she uses to etch these lines in the dark? It cuts close.