Welcome, Praxis readers, to the latest addition to our series of digital chapbooks, Iskandar Haggarty’s There Are No Women in Our House.
The fabulous cover art is from Scottish-Turkish poet and rapper Eren Isvan. And here is the Foreword from Dr. Gary Percival of the Istanbul Community School to get you started…read, share, enjoy!
The poems in this volume cover a huge range of emotions and experiences; startling for an author still in his teens. It begins with the subtly gothic ‘Keepsake’, in which the narrator braves the terrors of his Boo-Radley-neighbors and swipes a Bible from their front step. This small act of courage culminates in a euphemistic existential crisis when the narrator discovers that the pages are blank, and, after this shock, a small admonition at the end – in “graphite clockwork dormouse handwriting” – that God loves you. When the narrator tries to give the book back – for no child is capable of writing the narrative of its own unpenned life – he finds that the house, too, is empty, and he is trapped with the responsibility of the unwritten pages.
In many ways, the tones and motifs of the rest of the poems are set up in ‘Keepsake’. In most of the poems, the locations themselves take on a grim, almost visceral, persona that smacks of the sufferings evinced therein. The empty house of the first poem, with its “ribs/forever expanding” becomes the “house of/broken bones” in “Rain Poem 3”, or the floorboards of the house in “Bluebells & Bowerbirds” from which the narrator tries desperately to scrub away “the black/ stains of my father”. In these poems, a home is not a shelter or a refuge: it is a place of secrets, fears and dark entrapments. They are personified places, becoming the agonies of their occupants. The setting of “Dear Oleander” expresses this idea most vividly,
My veins are small.
They are dark, like
This house looks like
a labyrinth of small
are the color of
the windowpanes are
rusted over with
These environments communicate the vague horror of everyday life, for, throughout the volume, there is a sense that something dark and unknown lurks beneath the humdrum routines of getting-by. We see it in the neighbors in ‘Keepsake’, who bring “no nothing” to the world around them. From the old woman, who grits “her/ shark teeth to tiny/ nubs” to the overt violence of when the “nest in president Kennedy’s head tipped/ over and all the birds/spilled out” (“Powerful Magnetic Fields at the Hearts of Giant Stars”) there is a sense of the destructiveness and casual viciousness of which people are capable.
Within this bleak world, the narrator – though usually disappointed in his endeavors – never ceases to try to make contact. For the most part, these attempts are innocuous: trying to touch lips in “Rain Poem 2”, the uncle’s bid to explain the world to, and protect, the young narrator in “The Spaces in Between”, or the haunting evocation of relatives now dead or gone in “Powerful Magnetic Fields at the Hearts of Giant Stars”. However, so deep is the loneliness of the characters who inhabit these poems, they must push the contact further than it can go. In “When Plants Collide”, we see the narrator’s craving for complete absorption into the very being of his lover:
caught underneath your
This yearning for contact embraces not only other people and other lives. We see in a number of the poems a need to escape the bounds of the self, and connect to the elemental,
My finger floated up into the
cosmos, blurring until
I no longer knew what was me
and what was infinity. (“The Spaces In Between”)
This impulse to scatter the self, to push beyond the physical, is returned to frequently:
Their grey matter sprinkles
across the universe,
skips as stones do
upon cosmic oceans. (“When Planets Collide”)
Or again, in “Flutter”, when the narrator’s mother starts to “rain down/ from Ursa Major”.
Images of entrapment inform most of the poems in this volume: the body is too limiting, houses swallow their occupants, relationships are either unattainable or they ensnare us. Yet these images co-exist with their obverse. The poems thrill us with their desire to escape and seek, with the need for communication in its purest form, and the sense of pushing beyond the here-and-now in order to flow “in between the soft/pitter-patter/of our galaxy”. (“Rain Poem 4”).
The underlying compassion of the poems is undeniable, and they express the surge of an irrepressible energy. The structures of the poems break and erupt under the pressure of this energy as they try to touch upon something absolute.
Gary Percival, B.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.
Istanbul International Community School
10th October 2016.
Download Iskandar Haggarty’s chapbook here: There Are No Women in Our House.