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This review is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

Cover of Negative of a Group Photograph
Jamie OsbornThe words that took fire
Azita Ghahreman, Negative of a Group Photograph, tr. Maura Dooley & Elhum Shakerifar (Bloodaxe) £12
Pushing into the losses that have accompanied her poetic career, Azita Ghahreman’s is a voice of ‘antique loneliness’. The poet’s childhood as part of a land-owning family in Iran is a recurrent theme, while, in exile in Sweden, where she has lived since 2006, Ghahreman laments the loss of her language: ‘I could not sing snow. / Oh for it to rain Farsi!’ Maura Dooley’s elegant, prosodically imaginative translations are filled with lacunae not in the Persian text, presumably to reflect the music and natural pauses of the Persian, but also suggestive of those moments when language can no longer directly express its source – a lyric tension as much as it is political. ‘Glaucoma’, for instance, figures post-revolution repression in Iran as a gradual blindness, and it is hard not to read an echo of an ‘I’ in the space between the words: ‘The hollow of the eye           fills with snow’, in Dooley’s English.

Snow recurs as a metaphor of the chilling effect of loss, but the poet’s passion equally flares to the opposite extreme of flame. ‘Oh, the scent of your tender young blush’, she writes in ‘Freedom’, ‘the colour of the raspberries/you picked, red, a searing red/and the books the fire consumed –’ The stink of burning books pervades the collection, as trauma, or a demon that creeps ‘all the way up to Grandmother’s stories’, but fire is also a symbol of expression. In the title poem, memory is located ‘Between the road that twisted around my neck / and the words that took fire in your mouth’. ...

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