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Small Inheritances, Belinda ZhawiThe jacket follows the usual ignition press format of a thick purple vertical band to the left, occupying about 25% of the width. The rest is black with coloured triangles, one of which is merely an outline and intersects with the purple band. The triangles are different sizes, from very small to about one and a half inches in width. They are orange, yellow and purple. The two that are outlines are outlines in yellow. The title is in the bottom right hand corner, white text on the black. The text is all lower case with no caps and justified right. First the title and then somewhat smaller the author's name. The ignition press logo/name is on the same latitude as the author's name but in black text on the purple stripe.

Ignition Press, 2018   £5.00

Interweaving major themes

This pamphlet contains only fourteen poems, but what poems! They encompass powerful, formally varied depictions of the life of a young woman of colour who has migrated from Zimbabwe to Britain. The opener, ‘thamesmead estate (dregs of south east London)’, evokes racial injustice, post-Grenfell:

This city wouldn’t even spit on us.
We burn in fury & hunger; spines constricted
into question marks inside blazing tower blocks.

It continues to the subject, considered in other poems too, of escapist drug-taking: ‘We smoke up parks & the forests too / to say fuck you too, we need pretty days, / ablaze & red, top deck of a bus.’ That last line is repeated four times, like an incantatory feeling of controlled anger. The squalor of urban existence is skilfully documented: in ‘stockwell (other women)’, we read of young women ‘[who] want their bodies split / into fourteen lines till they transform / into non-leaking sonnets of white powder.’

The theme in the pamphlet’s title is addressed superbly in poignant poems such as (the author’s mother’s) ‘reasons for leaving home’:

Because
            the sun had become so hot;
                             like the soil, she felt herself dry up
Because
           three kids without a man around
                            is like walking around
                                         with a dead fish in your purse

The home Zhawi has left behind remains vital, prompting her anxiety that she might forget her Shona language and culture, as in ‘bantuland (dear whinchat)’:

When I speak to cousins back home my mouth feels
like it’s full of the water that dead leaves flail in.

The brilliant prose-poem ‘gatawa village (routines & rituals)’ is especially evocative:

The room grows heavy as the chant that rings to our dead floats up to the bare black rafters, pulsates with spirits wandering the deserts of a fleshless realm.

I admire Belinda Zhawi’s poems for their intelligent, poetic explorations of major themes: migration, racism, gender, religion, relationships, sex, and, naturally, heritage — above all from mother to daughter. When they need to be, her words are direct, rich, political, multi-layered and highly moving.

Matthew Paul

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