Gnashing Teeth Publishing

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BOOK REVIEW: Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah

Tarfia Faizullah is a master of surprise with labyrinthine content and unique turns of line in her recent work: Registers of Illuminated Villages from Graywolf Press. I was drawn to this collection after seeing her featured in Marty McConnell’s online literary magazine underbelly where poets share their rough drafts and thoughts on editing. I wasn’t disappointed. Much of this collection centers on the transitions of culture and geography between erasures of Kurdish villages, Bangladeshi transplantation to west Texas, and war torn towns. The book is heavy; the emotions are taut and fetter the reader to the concepts easily with emotive imagery.
Faizullah works magic through her line breaks and phrases with punch and verve that leave the reader breathless in their pursuit of her next insight.

Faizullah’s diction snaps with precision and lands with gossamer delicacy. Through this method she explores the memories of various losses within the text: villages eradicated by violence, husbands buried by widows’ hands, a sister that resides in “beetle-blistered memory”. The juxtaposition of fierce anguish and serene mourning adds tension and complexity to each section of the work.

The poet’s journey through various means of survival includes a number of linked pieces. There are poems that surprise the reader with interwoven subtext with titles that begin “The Hidden Register of…” alongside multiple poems which build a “Self Portrait as…”. The latter of these shone most brightly in my reading. “Self Portrait as Mango” turns the insult of culture-blind queries back on their originator, spitting “this ‘exotic’ fruit / won’t be cracked open to reveal the whiteness to you.” The piece channels the speaker’s roots and sharpens them into spears aimed at slicing the intended audience’s assumptions. “Self Portrait as Slinky”, another in this series, takes another tack by line reinventing meaning through breaks. One perfect moment of this sort occurs when she writes, “taut, like a child / who must please / the elders and doesn’t / know how.” The language unfolds and springs from one line to the next, forcing the reader to reinterpret each phrase as they connect to the longing to be accepted by one’s family.

To wander the path of these poems is to tread carefully through a streambed of emotion riddled with edges both sharp and smooth.

Get your copy of Registers of Illuminated Villages at Graywolf Press.

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