Comparative poetry paper: Comparing SEAM by Tarfia Faizullah and KITCHEN-DWELLER’S TESTIMONY by Ladan Osman

Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam is an enthralling series of poems that mixes charm with aggression, personal memories with historical events. The poems recount the horrific memories of two thousand female rape and torture victims during the Pakistani army’s Liberation War in 1971. Tarfia Faizullah, the daughter of a Bangladeshi refugee, examines her losses and the complexities of seeing the crimes committed against women during the war. Faizullah also considers her contribution to disaster and her rights to tell the harrowing tales. Despite the dissimilarities between her American life experience privilege and the devastating experiences of her Bangladeshi female war survivors, Faizullah crafts a seam which unites the different lives into one articulate lyrical narrative of women experiences in Bangladeshi (Faizullah, 2014). This was Tarfia Faizullah’s debut book.

The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony by Ladan Osman is a winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African poets. It is jointly published by the Amalion Press and the University of Nebraska Press. It is based on the Somali word ‘jiko muufo’, an insult word meaning ‘kitchen flatbread’ to criticize women who are obsessed with domestic work so much they watch bread rise with excitement. The collection of poems by Osman examine the various ways in which women navigate gender roles and examine the praise for women’s success in roles considered female-limited. The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony provides momentum for speakers to question and give their testimonies. It is about love, longing, desire and divorce (Osman, 2015).

Thematic and Style Comparisons

Gender inequality and oppression are main themes in the Seam and The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony. Born in 1980, Faizullah was too young to have witnessed the war in 1971. Despite not being an active participant, Faizullah feels the need to know and understand the history of her roots and hence explores her ethnic identity by encountering the testimonies of Birangona women, Bangladeshi survivors who were attacked and raped during the war. The poems are in form of an interview where each is given a similar name ‘Interview with a Birangona’ and every poem begins with a posed question to the interviewee. Most interviewees voice their war experiences in lyrical or narrative forms for instance “the silence clotted thick / with a rotten smell, dense like pear / blossoms,” or “I twine a red string / around my thigh. That evening, / a blade sliced through the string.” Some interviewees implore the speaker asking her doesn’t she know they made them watch heads of other victims fall while others seemed to accept their situations quietly. Each poem gives a voice to most Birangona women creating a testimony united with a powerful voice entity. Even despite the sufferings of the Bangladeshi women, they became ostracized by the society for being ‘defiled.’ For instance in the “Interviewers Note,” Faizullah writes that “there are words for every kind of woman, but a raped one.”

Osman opens her poem “The Pilgrims” with a striking metaphor, that “something is pressing against the hymen of madness” This metaphor holds to the implication of rape, deflowering, loss of innocence and regret. A reflection of the occurrences in Somalia.

In her ‘Unsolicited Witness’ poem, Osman transforms from an observer and a witness to a strange and surprising participant. Osman’s syntax management is deft and controlled, where her sharp unsettling questions are comforting and disquieting at the same time. The man in Unsolicited Witness is described as an ankle grabbing monster, but the end of the piece, the audience is left concerned about the speaker. The biographical personage of Osman’s life is constructed and rooted on her experience of gender. There are danger shadows haunting in all Osman’s poems, taking a persona that is fully aware of women’s dangers where girls are “tossed onto ravines and stuffed under bushes” Twigs. While Osman’s persona is often in first person in her poetry, Faizullah seems to keep her story and the Birangona stories in different spaces, and not imposing herself in what she has not experienced. However, she allows her own response to the accounts and events of the Bengali women to be present and active in the narrative. This allows the readers to say the way she relates to the Birangona women and how distanced she is.

Many of Faizullah’s poems have been excerpted from interviews, creating a call and response conversation between her and the Birangona. As clearly seen in the Interview with a Birangona which commences with a question “Do you have siblings?” this is followed by the interviewee’s response who had lost a sibling “…you want/the darkness she stood against/to be the yards of violet velvet.” Faizullah had also lost a sister, which creates an unclear insight on the transition between the sisters’ memories and the interview. Faizullah and the respondent discover a seam that unites their stories: the seam of tragedy.

Osman’s sentiment management is comparable to Faizullah’s in Seam. This is revealed when the two authors are dealing with difficult and emotionally tense subjects. In Osman’s poem where she describes her father’s diabetes condition discovery, the narrative is full of precise and evocative details with a well-trimmed dialogue full of symbolism and essentiality. Osman fully understands the art of complicating situations with emotions in addition to physical detail capacity full of cinematic sense and beyond.

Somalia and Bangladesh Culture

The Somalis have been referred to as a “Nation of Poets” or a “Nation of Bards” due to the passion and love for poetry. This is evident in The Kitchen’s Dweller Testimony, a Somali woman who has created beauty in words from a craft perspective. Somalis have a tradition of storytelling. They also have a rich music heritage that is based in the traditional folklore. With an artistic culture, the Somali people characterize their art with aniconism coupled with their Muslim beliefs and pre-Islamic mythology. The Cushitic tribe uses the Somali language and are Muslims. Religion is the main source of cultural norms and laws such as the exclusion of women from male-dominated religious order. (Lewis & Hussein, 2017)

The Birangona is the Bangladeshi word for the brave war heroines of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Over 200,000 women were raped and tortured (ISLAM, 2012). The aesthetic representations of the war heroines can only be understood through literature, visual and testimonial forms.

Conclusions

The title Seam allows the reconciliation of a seemingly unlikely and impossible connections, the privileged United States of America and the war-stricken Bangladesh, the privileged woman in America and the abused, raped and exploited woman in Bangladesh. Throughout this book, the seam image makes a transformation and performs a diverse function: seams are a reflection of self, cultural identity and a sign of women abandonment and defilement. The poems create recurring images of the Bengali fabric, with seams functioning on the literal and metaphorical aspects. Despite the differences between Faizullah’s notes and the women war survivors’ testimonies, the two have been perfectly seamed into one narrative. Faizullah born in a latter generation in Texas and a Birangona woman affected by the 1971 war create one body. The reader is haunted by the women’s horrifying stories “don’t you know / they made us watch her head fall / from the rusted blade of the old?” Osman’s poetics in The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony also involve a distinctive willingness of the writer to allow non sequiturs and have the audience follow her through the complexity of women abuse.

References

Faizullah, T. (2014). Seam. Southern Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.

ISLAM, K. S. (2012). Breaking Down the Birangona Examining the (Divided) Media Discourse on the . International Journal of Communication 6, 2131-2148.

Lewis, T., & Hussein, K. (2017). Somali Cultural Profile. Retrieved from EthnoMed: https://ethnomed.org/culture/somali/somali-cultural-profile

Osman, L. (2015). The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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