Debut poetry book on belonging
AS A contribution to the South African poetry landscape, Johannesburg author Saleeha Idrees Bamjee will launch her debut book – a compilation of poems, titled Zikr – next week.
Bamjee, 35, of Johannesburg, said Zikr, comprising 41 poems, was written to share some perspective and add something from the lived experiences of a third-generation South African Muslim of Indian descent.
“My aim is to exhibit the struggles and tensions of someone just trying to navigate their way through our sometimes complicated society,” she said.
Bamjee, a photographer and writer, said she decided to compile the book as many of her works had been published in literary journals and anthologies over the past few years.
“I felt I had amassed enough to consider putting together a collection.”
She added that she was inspired to write by “everyday things”.
“I often write about bereavement, as I lost my father when I
Zikr, was six, and poetry helped me process his death. Sometimes I just want to claim a moment, in the same way a photograph can. Some of my poems are drawn from personal experience or observations, while others explore other people’s narratives,” she said.
Bamjee said the title Zikr was Arabic for “remembrance” but these were not religious poems by any means.
“Many are merely reflections on the quotidian. I draw on ‘rituals of remembering’ to excavate the recurring themes of my own personal narratives and of those around me. I write to make sense of myself and my place in the world, the tensions I experience as a woman, as a minority, as someone with some privilege, as someone searching for her footing.”
Bamjee, who is currently editing a manuscript for a novella, added that while the title may make the book sound like it was a “Muslim book” or a book for Muslims, it was not.
“It is not religious in any kind of proselytising way. I do draw on aspects of Islam as they relate to my experiences, but this is a book for everyone, by a writer who just happens to be Muslim.”
The poems, she added, were about family, loss, love, aspects of spirituality, womanhood and memory.
“For example, one the poems, Every Single One Of Us, was born out of a conversation with friends about how we each experienced aggression or harassment from men,” Bamjee said.
“Another poem, Our House is Not Child Friendly, is one where I talk about my struggles with infertility.”
Bamjee said that poetry, to her, was artifice and truth at the same time.
“It is as unreliable as memory and as valid as photographic proof. A poem can exist like this, in both states. This is what makes poetry universal and enduring. I want people to enjoy the work, to find resonance in it, to perhaps see a bit of their own selves in the poems.”
The book will be launched at Love Books in Melville, Johannesburg, on September 25, and at Bridge Books in Maboneng on September 28, with a Durban launch scheduled for December.
It is also available at Exclusive Books, Bargain Books and other bookshops.