A Warning to the House That Holds Me, Amina Jama

Flipped Eye Publishing, 2019     £4.00

Warning to the reader: put down your hot chocolate and have Google on standby!

A Warning to the House That Holds Me was like doing a workout, for me: challenging and refreshing, but something I needed to be in the right mood for.

From the word go, Amina Jama kept me on my toes: grappling with big issues, such as mental health, using diverse forms (from a pantoum to an erasure poem) and responding to others.

Even the mechanics of the pamphlet got me focused! It is divided into five parts, each with a background context relating to Frida Kahlo’s life. There’s a glossary reflecting the writer’s Somali British heritage, and the pamphlet runs back to front: part one is at the end.

Another twist is that the poem ‘moqadishu funk: a history of migration’ is printed horizontally with four stanzas running across two pages (so you need to turn the book sideways to read). This perhaps reflects displacement and several decades of transition. Such surprise visual elements engaged me.

The pamphlet is also daring in its frequent interaction with other writers. Nine of the twenty-six poems respond directly to other poems. This led me to revisit Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’ and to discover Hera Lindsay Bird. It was a brave move — inevitably inviting comparison with originals, including Caroline Bird’s ‘Sanity’, to which ‘losing to the cycle of being kind’ responds.

And it’s emotionally risky too. As with Frida Kahlo’s paintings, the pamphlet ‘carries with it the message of pain’ (this is a quotation from Kahlo shared in the poem ‘application for motherhood’). There are striking moments of sadness, such as in ‘self-portrait of an ageing mother’, where the mother calls ‘to see if i picked my skin off the bed’. Disturbingly, ‘the only doll i ever owned was torn apart’ uses scattered words to mimic ruptured limbs. And the consistent use of the lower case throughout the pamphlet also heightens the sense of risk and vulnerability.

Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana