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.


Saaleha Idrees Bam­jee will soon re­lease a com­pi­la­tion of 41 po­ems.

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