The boys like me / when I’m well browned / and have stopped sizzling / and am silent.
Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham who has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). She was also invited to perform at TedxBrum 2016.
In my Sealey selections, there are a couple of personal epiphanies. This is one of them: a book in three parts, the third of which hands over the page to three other poets who have influenced Hamid. They are Amina Mekie, Yasmina Silva and Zeddie. This is a book about learning, understanding and reflection, and the three part structure allows the poetry to do its work so very, VERY well.
Lessons from the Text
This is a collaboration with Poetry Behemoth Joelle Taylor, an exploration of a life that was fractured by childhood trauma, of how mental health subsequently colours everything in an individual’s experience. At its heart however is a story of womanhood, which is such a subjective, ephemeral thing for every woman, it is vital you spend time understanding how that works on an individual basis. By hearing this nuanced yet brutal storytelling, your story undoubtedly alters as a result.
I was lucky enough to see Nafeesa perform at the Kendal Poetry Festival. Her generosity, energy and obvious resilience are a reminder that if we own our own weaknesses and do not let them define us, literally anything is possible. Her work is a singular journey between fugue states and emotional flashpoints: from the completely italicized and shocking School Assembly, to her various states of ‘woman’ (Woman as a McDonald’s Happy Meal balloon is my standout) absolutely no punches are pulled here.
Taylor asks the reader to ‘let this book be her homecoming’ and it is: it’s also a signal to all women that their stories need to be remembered, preserved and passed on as this one is. If you want one poem to change your life, go to page 77. Read What to pack when you’re about to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Again. Mental health issues are difficult enough to cope with, but to endure them as a woman of colour is a feat of true resilience.
Will you read it again? As the Grey Hen poetry is driving one form of personal revolution, this book has prompted me to look at what womanhood means to me. There are ten poems prompted by this text and what I perceive as a lack of my own, personal queer representation being worked on present. I am already benefitting from the catharsis. This book could change your life too.
Would you recommend it for me to read? This is a book I really want everyone to read, especially those who stigmatize women with mental health issues. It is essential, vital and completely unputdownable.