Narrow cover, with a white band down the left side and sideways purple lettering. On the right side a patterned paper in purple and goldLitanies, Naush Sabah

Guillemot Press, 2021     £8.00

Seeing through the smoke and mirrors

The poems in this pamphlet chart the disillusionment and loss of faith of a Muslim woman as she grows into adulthood. They are often vicious in their condemnation of what is seen as trickery. The poem ‘of Myths and Messengers’ is an exhortation to ‘slay the messengers’:

When their imaginings and dreams, their waking visions,
turn to words on lips and are proclaimed on the High St,
proclaimed on the YouTube video or the Facebook live,
Every myth a mirror and in every madman a monologue,
The gods have needs and their messengers have pulpits:
someone must bleed, something must burn and smoke.

As the title suggests each of the poems is presented as a Litany. The form varies, sometimes using free verse or prose with no punctuation. There is a sestina and a speculum; repetitions are used to create these ‘special effects’ of sound so that the poems adopt the mesmeric tone of the prayers they disavow. This is such a strong device. ‘Questions of Faith’ is a good example:

                                                     god is great &
he’s filled heaven  with  hentai virgins  &  rivers of
milk and wine so we can fuck & drink to our heart’s
content &  this poem is about religion is about sex

I was deeply moved by the way the poems turn from fury at the cosmic and absolute power of the gods to show how profoundly the loss of faith is felt. In ‘Litany of Dissolution’, ‘the great halls of death’ are:

                                 gaping into me
                            with fathomless black
                                                    and no promises

The poem ‘Litany of the Shoreline’ is beautiful on the page. The words tumble down in short lines making a visual pattern like the discarded headscarf, like the white surf on the beach: 

  subject to me this shoreline and this sea
      the eye of the land is looking at me
   and no veil covers me
 nothing veils me
   though I elude them
     disfigure the faces
 subject to me
 each shoreline  

Anne Bailey