In this remarkable debut the poet, whose own family were displaced from Lebanon, has achieved a work of empathy with women from other cultures and now living in the East End.
It brings to life longed-for homelands and sings of loss as well as adjustment to Britain.
It filled me with a desire to see the community needlework from which it sprang.
Contemporary poetry often favours the confessional over the communal, but here we have the hybrid benefits of the communal in confessional mode.
Migrant communities, in particular, should be squarely on the cultural menu, and it’s refreshing for so many untold stories to arrive at table fully voiced.
Abi-Ezzi’s poems are aswarm with the details (artefacts, clothing, pigments, names, foods) that backdrop human displacement; she highlights the rich tenacities of a world that, for all its fragility and transience, can be made fuller and more included.
ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Needle Around Her Neck was produced as part of Traces: Stories of Migration, a community art project based in East London that explored personal and family migration stories through the medium of textile crafts. Set within the cultural and historical context of the migrant history of the East End’s Rag Trade, participants created visual narratives of their journeys as textile artworks.
While these were largely stories of migration, they also included life journeys: journeys of motherhood, of discovery, of reconciliation, of movement from one state of being to another. It was conversations with participants about these topics that fired Abi-Ezzi’s imagination. She took an event, an image or a phrase, and used artistic license to build a poem around it. The poems in this collection are thus imbued with ideas relating to identity, belonging, journeys and the meaning of home.
ABOUT NATHALIE ABI-EZZI
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi is the author of two novels, A Girl Made of Dust and Paper Sparrows. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of the Arts London. This is her first collection of poetry.
THE FIRST POEM IN THE BOOK:
Once a week she crosses the river
to hold a giant black receiver,
one end of a long-stretched line
that carries his voice,
scratched by oceans,
curving into her ear.
Then back onto the boat,
back across the river to real life:
dig clay from the riverbed,
bake it in a hole underground,
boss your brothers to build me a den!
sew puppet-dolls (Mum screaming
at her cut-up sarees),
trudge miles to the well
and back again,
light the lantern and listen
to the night-noises of horses,
cows, sheep, chickens, ducks,
not a thing like the sounds
they make by day.
She carves mangoes into flowers
for the engagement, the wedding,
the birth, lines scored deep
in the chopping board,
and dreams of a boat
to carry her across the river,
a heavy-as-oil contraption
against her cheek,
a mile-scratched voice
saying her name.