Monday, March 27, 2017



A Winged Horse in a Plane by Salah Faik, translated by Maged  Zaher
(Tinfish, Hawai’i, 2015)

As the title “A Winged Horse in a Plane” suggests, Salah Faik’s poems (trans. Maged Zaher) in this chapbook can be surreal concoctions. The title poem begins with the narrator “in pajamas in a garden, / Two monkeys in front of me playing chess” (8), an unlikely but not impossible situation, and asserts that “a few hours before” an ant-poet “from another planet” was expected to arrive. The set-up is dream-like, but, the narrator insists, “I wasn’t asleep” (9).

The speaker in A Winged Horse in a Plane is rather pointedly awake throughout the small collection, interacting within the fantastic situations he creates.  He listens to the winged horse, who “gives me the handbag / I lost years ago” (8) and “tells me that mathematics treats asthma / And knee pain” (9); he “introduce[s] my last poetry collection to a statue,” which bows and smiles in response (14). Faik’s speaker presents such oddities lightly, inviting readers to join him in amusement.

However, the poems are not merely lighthearted, and their narrator often turns introspective: “I stare at the infinite in front of me” (4); “I am without a family or a home country” (13). In “Poem,” Faik writes, “I entered a cemetery / All the gravestones had my name (7). The pages of this chapbook are peppered with reality and trouble:  “guerrilla wars in the mountains” (9), suicides (15), “contaminated water” (15), “God sitting, angry” (19), “selling your mother drugs” (20), a mine collapse (21), hunger (26), the “death of my father” (27). Luckily, Faik excels at presenting compelling juxtapositions between despair and hope. “I was attacked by sorrow a while ago, and then I felt good” (11), Faik writes.

The subject of poetry itself—a topic the author returns to frequently—also demonstrates this tug-of-war between sadness and wonder and sorry amusement. “I would like to build my hut of palm fronds…And forget that I am a poet” (10), Faik writes in “I Wait for a Train that Doesn’t Arrive.” In a later poem, the author describes the “hours” he spends “collecting – from alley to alley,” doing the creative and necessary literary work that, Faik points out, comes “Without wages” (25).  And in “To Wrestle a Bear,” he describes a sort of poetic-existential crisis: “when I wake up or go to bed, / I stare at [the covers of my books], wondering, how I wrote these books and why?” (22).

Faik, or his poet-narrator, may at times be disheartened by poetry—and by life—but, aren’t we all occasionally similarly disheartened? The poems in this chapbook move from imagination to reality, easily slipping back and forth between the fantastic, the wistful, and the sad. This slippage allows the poems to demonstrate a broad authenticity of feeling; the poems are real, but they also go deeper-than-real.  Faik writes, “At the end of each poem / I reach a place I wasn’t in” (14), and the chapbook brings readers to this new place, too, allowing them to enter the poet’s space and imagine themselves part of the locations and lives written on these pages.


Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation‘s poetry publication prize, and three chapbooks: In an aviary (Grey Book Press, 2016); travelogue (Dancing Girl, 2016); and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. Her recent poems can be found in Colorado Review, BOAAT, and Sugar House Review. She lives in southern California where she edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.

No comments:

Post a Comment