Emma Lee Reviews ‘Hinge’ by Alycia Pirmohamed

‘Hinge’ Alycia Pirmohamed

Ignition Press https://www.brookes.ac.uk/poetry-centre/ignition-press/pamphlets/

ISBN 978-1-9161328-1-8, £5

Alycia Pirmohamed’s ‘Hinge’ explores the duality of migration and whether opening up to a new homeland risks losing the ancestral homeland, whether a new language displaces an older one. At the core of us is a need for familial links and a desire to belong, needs and desires that might become broken when families are scattered between continents and the need to learn new languages disrupts understanding of old languages. In ‘My Body is a Forest’.

‘I apologise

             because I could not read the recipe
written in my grandmother’s neat script.

I added cinnamon     crushed anise     mountain slope

             and too may quartered

once I watched a mule deer unfold her limbs
and vanish

                    among the haloed trees

fog uncoiling at her heels         a ghost
inviting her

into its loosened borders.

In the blood of every migrant
        there is a map pointing home’    

The narrator’s grandmother’s handwriting was legible, so it was the language or recipe that caused misunderstanding and potential loss. The deer in the mist becomes a metaphor for that loss. The mist invites so there is the potential to gain new knowledge, but it means moving further from home. The gains of the new are counterbalanced by losing ties to familial traditions and the ability to understand them or make them work in a new location. There’s an echo of this in ‘Homeward’, ‘In the heart of every migrant, there is a windrose pointing home/ and while the needles within your own cells// flicker back and forth, your father is steadfast in direction:/ homeward, a course you have only ever imagined’.

‘My Inheritance is to Long for [        ]’ looks back but finds gaps,

‘then I am the ghost in family photographs
a generation of crossings

becoming and unbecoming the country I long to know
its [        ] and whistling thorn.

I leave the window gaping like a lily’s mouth
and welcome the          clatter

of fallen lines.
Her language slips and quivers between my teeth.’

It captures a migrant’s limbo: neither fully from their place of origin nor fully belonging to their new country. A position that allows slips between the two. Photographs act as a tie to the place of origin but the stories behind the photographs get lost as people depart and begin to forget. Some would prefer to forget. But the narrator is feeling the loss of generational memory, stories and names passed from one generation to the next.

‘Endearments’ looks at the names couples give each other,

‘There is also my skin and yours,
there is also the way skin & skin are two
vastly different things
that this language has difficulty

“every constellated mole” &

“pillar of shade.”
How all of these names describe the way

we coexist
& exist within one another—

the way you disappear into trees
& I follow.’

The image of moving into a forest is echoed from the first poem. Forests can be enchanted places but also places where maps aren’t always useful: a path can become overgrown and impassable. A new path can emerge as wildlife moves and tramples aside undergrowth. It can also be a relationship: maps (advice) exists but the couple have to find their own path and build on trust to stay together.

The focus turns to language in ‘On My Tongue’,

‘On Saturdays, I learned to repeat
passages in Arabic,

to recite the Qur’an
in its truest language

otherwise are the locusts
really locusts?

I read and read, and yet
struggled to recite in Arabic.

This was not a problem
with my memory.

I learned in a week how
to recite the first verse in English.’

It queries the nature of translation: how accurately can a translation replicate the original? There also seems to be the weight and expectation: the narrator finds learning the Arabic difficult yet learns the English version quickly. English is a gateway language that opens her world. Arabic represents tradition and looking back to the narrator’s familial roots. It becomes much harder to learn.

‘Hinge’ is a solid debut that explores the balancing of tradition and seeking out the new. Through the poems, Alycia Pirmohamed explores the duality of leaving behind an ancestral country and embracing a new country and what that means for family traditions and developing a sense of belonging.