This review is taken from Stand 228, 18(4) December 2020 - February 2021.

Mimi Khalvati, Afterwardness (Carcanet, 2019)
Caroline Bird, The Air Year (Carcanet, 2020)
Mina Gorji, Art of Escape (Carcanet, 2020)

The ambitious Petrarchan sonnets in Mimi Khalvati’s ninth collection, Afterwardness, reach for a home in the wake of exile. Beginning with a child ‘flying away from all [it] know[s]’, the world around shrinking and disappearing, this in-between space in which the poems themselves take flight is captured with astute precision. For example, in the title poem an eleven-year-old boy’s eyes ‘hold only things no longer there’. Here, in an empty space, the space of a sonnet, Khalvati listens for traces of a past and hints of a future.

The sounds she ends up hearing are often those made by language. And language really is a sound here, ‘othered’ by Khalvati in poems such as ‘Dreamers’, where children arrive on their journeys with ‘first languages, half-formed, dropped at a border’. In ‘Translation’, children, we are told, play ‘leap, drop, pick up, catch, of translation,  the concept, long before they learn the word.’ Painful and playful, through this play with language we learn the concept of ‘afterwardness’.

The Petrarchan sonnet, though creatively stretched in a variety of directions, holds its form throughout as Khalvati builds a home in language through which cultures and contradictions can speak to each other. The titles of the poems (‘The Living Room’, ‘The Courtyard’, ‘Friends House’, ‘The Street’) are indicative of this attempt not to recreate a place, but to forge a new hybrid in the in-between of ‘afterwardness’.

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