Reviewed by Samah Sabwai
(Wasting the Milk in the Summer by Sara Saleh)
Once in a while, you come across a poetry collection and your world comes to a stand still! You hold your breath as the images rise from the pages to confront, terrorize or soothe you. You lose yourself in the spaces between the words. That’s what great poetry can do.
Sara Saleh is an Arab-Australian human rights and refugee advocate of Palestinian and Egyptian backgrounds. Despite her young age, she has mastered her art and her activism. A well-accomplished poet and a public speaker, Saleh has weaved with words the most compelling poetry I’ve read in years. Her collection Wasting the Milk in the Summer is a masterpiece that promises to move and to inspire.
Sara Saleh stands out with the tenderness through which she unpacks the most complex human emotions.
loss comes before
that there is winter before
there is spring
you carry the rooftops
of cities you have never been
and the memory of
Readers will not feel estranged from Saleh’s poetry. Unlike those who write to champion one cause or another, Saleh’s poetry is not a battle cry but more like gentle whispers that penetrate deep into our consciousness.
We see ourselves in her ‘we’ and her ‘I’. We are part of her emotional journey. Her realizations and reflections speak to us and for us. They echo our own thoughts and help us understand our own reactions to the daily dozes of cruelty and brutality we witness on our screens and along our borders. She brilliantly narrates our lives and puts into words our shame. Didn’t we all watch when the body of the three-year-old Alan (Aylan Kurdi), the Syrian toddler was found lifeless on the shores of a Turkish resort? She writes to Alan:
did you know
you’d have to die
so we would let you in
Sara Saleh claims the language and decolonizes our modes of expression. She holds a mirror to our world, forcing us to reflect on our actions and reactions. She is confident in her Islamic faith, Arabic culture, Australian upbringing, hybrid identity, and her humanist approach is beautiful, its feminist undertones shine like a bright light. She is a woman in love, in grief, in shame, in conquest, in defiance and in submission. She is a woman who doesn’t quiet fit in:
growing up curved
in world that doesn’t like curvy
i had to learn to make
with an audience of mirrors
reflection of alone
to feel so heavy
my tentacles, hips, hymen thick with truth
my body was an apology, never forgiven
my body was a war of attrition
In a world of rising populist rhetoric, fake news headlines and sensational sound bites, language is a battlefield and words are both sword and armor. They can incite hatred and inflict pain or they can shield us from despair and inspire us. In this world, poets like Sara Saleh find themselves standing at the frontlines of an epic struggle for our humanity.
It is astounding to think that Wasting the Milk in the Summer is Sara Saleh’s first poetry collection. It gives me great pleasure to be the first to review her work.
Wasting the Milk in the Summer is available in select bookstores in Sydney and Melbourne and can be ordered online and shipped to anywhere around the world.
– Samah Sabawi is an award-winning author, poet and playwright. She contributed this poem to PalestineChronicle.com.