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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

Cover of The Wrong Person To Ask
Vera YuenMarjorie Lotfi, The Wrong Person To Ask (Bloodaxe) £10.99
Living through the Fire

The Wrong Person To Ask is Marjorie Lotfi’s debut poetry collection. These tender and intricate poems chart a journey across continents, chronicling a childhood of unrest and violence in Iran and the nuances of relocation to America and Scotland. Lotfi’s work interweaves the personal with the national, illuminating past and present tragedies through the quotidian rhythms of a new existence abroad.

Lotfi’s verse is filled with directives, as if to guide readers through a terrain crowded with exploding mortars and crumbling buildings. Nothing is too sacred to be destroyed in an instant, and resistance could seem futile, evident in ‘Refuge’, an ekphrastic poem:
Take out
his thighs, but leave
his knees to buckle
at kindness, and the lack
of it. Don’t loosen his grip
on the suitcase; it holds
all he owns. Instead, nail
his feet to the planks
of the pier and let him try  
to take another step.
The poem takes its inspiration from Frances Bruno Catalano’s Les Voyageurs sculpture, and the verse, too, has a hollowed-out quality. The line breaks are choppy but decisive and the brevity of Lotfi’s diction conveys an immense sense of loss. What more can this poem be alluding to? What more is left unsaid? The plosives of ‘take’, ‘buckle’, ‘grip’ and ‘planks’ hammer into listeners’ ears and jolt them into alertness. ‘Hope’ is written in a similar style to ‘Refuge’, both of which are generous with their use of imperatives. This time, each stanza starts with a commanding ...

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