Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Refuge, Marjorie Lotfi Gill

Tapsalteerie, 2018  £5

A delicate body of poetry

There is a subtle physicality to Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s poems in Refuge. They take us by the hand and lead us into a world of often anxious experience. She shares insights into the culture that has influenced her life and shaped those seeking refuge. And she often does so using delicate body imagery.

The poet expresses significant moments through the hands, particularly the palms. In ‘Gift’, the first poem in the collection, she describes the gesture of prayer, the shared recognition of faith despite different religions:

Your hands pressed
together, palm to palm

Palms are used as a sensitive image for vulnerability. In her poem ‘To the airport’, Marjorie describes her mother managing how her hands look so as to not be conspicuous when leaving Iran —

            the faces of her jewels
turned inwards towards the palms

She goes on to describe her father holding one of her mother’s hands:

this rare gesture
                                                his goodbye

In ‘Pilgrim ix. Losing’, we see the father ‘palms pushed / against the carpet’ as he wakes from ‘the rare sleep of denial’ after returning to a home empty of family.

The body plays a role throughout poems in this collection: knees, heads, mouths, eyes, tongue, faces and, notably, exhalation from the body in the form of breath.

Breath involves sharing part of oneself with the outer world. It also implies vulnerability, given breathing is essential to life. In ‘Pilgrim i. Beginning’, breath features in each stanza: ‘the shallow breath of his brothers’, ‘his mother’s breath’, his mother listening for ‘his breath’. The final poem of this sequence (and final poem in the pamphlet) ends with

to listen to him breathe, listening
            to him listening to them breathe.

We have come full circle, joined hands.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad