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This review is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

Cover of Writing the Camp
Shash TrevettYousif M. Qasmiyeh, Writing the Camp (Broken Sleep Books) £10.99
‘Camp (n): a residue in the shape of a crescent made of skin and nothing’.

Writing the Camp is not a book you can read in one sitting. It is not even a book you can understand in one reading. It is not merely an autobiography of a poet born in Baddawi Camp in Lebanon, or a treatise on being a refugee or on the asylum system. This phenomenal collection defies easy categorisation: the poems compel the reader to question, to renegotiate, to dwell on the fluidity of memory, identity and trauma. Yousif M Qasmiyeh’s language is deliberate, thought-provoking, rooted in the particular: it asks the reader to slow down, to dwell on the juxtaposition of words and ideas, to grapple with the immensities contained within the lines.

Fundamental to the collection is the question – what does it mean to ‘write the camp’? Is the camp a place or an idea? Is it an extended metaphor for the act of writing itself? Is it a site for the patterning of stories? A place where the ‘I’ is strengthened, nourished, while simultaneously being dispersed and mutated into the other ‘I’s which populate the camp? In the camp time cannot exhaust itself; it is never ending, both linear and cyclical, invading and examining the lives of those living within it, opening their stories and their thresholds to the gaze of the reader. It is also the place which exists in the absence of time, where ‘time died so it could return home’. Writing the camp is an attempt to ...

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