A City Waking Up, Sue Wallace-ShaddadThe jacket is filled with a colour photograph of a great river (the Nile) and one shore, with the sun low in the sky, so the colours are muted, and the sun is a hazy circle, its reflection lighting up the water. A beautiful photo. If there are people they are indistinct. The title and author's name are right justified bottom right in white print against the nearly black shore. Author's name is first, then title, the title being much bigger font, though both appear to be the same typeface.

Dempsey and Windle, 2021    £8.00

So much food

I’ve never been to Sudan but ‘Preparing the Feast’ suggested the sort of food I might easily have imagined:

Throat cut, blood spurting,
Halal rules in place,
the sheep is lifted high,
hanging free in the shade,
soon to be carved
by skilful hand.

‘Fish Feast’ also created an image consistent with my expectations:

The fisherman piles them into a plastic bag.
They hang from the hook of his scales,
the price is agreed.

Close by the water, we take a seat.
Anticipating the meal ahead,
we savour the breeze.

And in ‘A City Waking Up’ the herdsmen, who ‘gather for black tea / in chequered shade’ are as consistent with my imagined Sudan as the flat bread and the sacks of onions waiting to be sold.

However, I had no idea until I read ‘Al fatur – Breakfast’ that Sudan offered quite such an array of foods with which to start the day. And to be honest, by the end of the poem I was feeling a little queasy.

I began to wonder what these various lists of foods were teaching me about the lives of people in Sudan.

Then — so subtle I almost missed it — came what for me is the most powerful food image in this whole collection. It is in ‘Wake-up Call’ which is dated 26th January, 2019.

                     He dies

but not totally in vain
as I and others
on mobile phones
three thousand miles away
see the horror
                      the pain

and it’s clear
as we absorb the scene,
the punishment did not fit the crime:
a plea for bread
                    a stable life.

And there, in one loaf, I felt as if I was beginning to learn something about this country.

Sue Butler