tall-lighthouse, 2006 - £2.50
THIS PAMPHLET LOOKS neat and unsentimental: an austere grey cover, compact title, and a small graphic. The author peers out from his photo on the back somewhat disbelievingly. The poetry, however, couldn’t be more different. Jamal is a skilful storyteller, richly describing and reflecting on personal, colourful memories with a beautiful sense of pace and drama. The poems progress from “his early years in East Africa” to “more recent events”, which include witnessing the 2004 tsunami:
At Ao Phra Nang, remote as the name,
an elbow in dry white sand,
I reach for my digital camera to capture the change.
A long-tailed taxi-boat flung on its side
enters the frame,
red seat cushions float in disarray.
This careful build-up of information and images is typical of Jamal’s style: logical, economical and precise. Most impressive is the way his words and ideas seem to unfold effortlessly one into each other, like a teacher telling a gripping story, although it is hard to illustrate this without quoting an entire poem. One of the best pieces grapples with the ethics of memory and memorializing: should the poet “delete the image” of a dead woman “stored for history” from his camera? The ideas brought up here are neatly relevant to the entire volume, all poetic ‘snapshots’.
He is also skilled at using form. One poem, ‘Inside the wardrobe’, tells us about a child’s first unfortunate cigarette which sets alight the family house. The sentences are short—contracted—the grammar stunted, missing conjunctions or verbs—and the stanzas are also short, only two lines:
A match struck in the dark
a blinding orange flame.
This simple but effective mirror of the child’s physical and psychological constriction is again typical of Jamal’s organic writing style. The shape suits the content and there is never any sense of form being used for its own sake
Overall, I can definitely recommend this one. Get down with “Above Zanzibar”; a winner.