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This review is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Cover of The Explosive Expert’s Wife
Yvonne ReddickCreatures Fiercely Made
Shara Lessley, The Explosive Expert’s Wife (U. of Wisconsin Press) £13.50;
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, Doe Songs (Peepal Tree Press) £8.99;
Jennifer Elise Foerster, Bright Raft in the Afterweather (U. of Arizona Press) £16.50
Shara Lessley’s latest collection takes us to Jordan, viewed through the eyes of an expatriate woman from the USA. The book gets off to a strong start with a poem about the Middle East’s first all-female demining team:

Women go down on their knees
hovering above a mapwork of metalwork, brushing
dust from cluster bombs like ash from flatbread.

The line break after the first line creates an accomplished sleight of hand: you think this is a poem about prayer, or sex, but no! Lessley’s poetry continues to surprise: the scorpions are far less dangerous than the ‘dragons’ teeth’ mines; Queen Noor is from the Midwest. The poet deftly captures cultural differences throughout the collection – Arabic has a phrase for ‘the static of snow-crust forming / white camellias of ice’, but the local Jordanian dialect has no word for ‘Miss’.

Yet one of the book’s greatest strengths is the delicate way it finds common ground across cultures. ‘My passport reads Shara, a Nabatean god // Am I more or less American in Amman?’ the poet wonders in ‘Ex-pat Ghazal’. The explosive expert’s wife recurs in all three sections of the collection (first packing clean underwear for her husband’s trip to Kabul, and later witnessing him testing mines in a Department of Defense range). Some of the collection’s most intriguing poems look at America with fresh eyes: ‘The Bath Massacre, 1927’ examines America’s first school bombing, while ‘The Clinic Bomber’s Mother’ is a companion piece to the Jordan-focused ‘The Accused Terrorist’s Wife’. Poetic ...

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