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June 14, 2010

Fatima Al Matar's The Heart and the Subsidiary.

The poet, Fatima Al Matar, recently sent me a copy of her debut poetry collection The Heart and the Subsidiary, which is published by Authorhouse . Fatima Al Matar is originally from Kuwait (born 1980) and studied law at Kuwait University. More recently, in 2005, she moved to the UK where she is completing a PhD in Economic Law at University of Warwick. She lives in Coventry where she has been mentored by the Coventry poet Fred Holland, who has written extensively on Philip Larkin.

As a researcher in the field of violence against women, I was particularly impressed by Fatima Al Matar’s poems about abuse. For example, in ‘The Box’, the cardboard box stands in for a relationship, signalling another layer of meaning to the man’s actions:

when he no longer needed the box
he took a blade
and swiftly slit
down the corners,
with zero resistance
the exhausted sides

Al Matar also writes more directly about abuse in ‘Happiness’, recounting the story of a fellow law student who was tortured by Iraqi soldiers during the 1990 invasion. The poem records a horrifying litany of torture – physical and sexual, too shocking to recount here, but ends by highlighting how such crimes are forgotten and ignored:

they twist in agony
when governments
kiss, hold hands
‘The war is behind us’,
they murmur cowardly.
you’ll never have to relive the
None of us survived the war
the way you did.

Al Matar’s final comment suggests a note of ambiguity. The torture of women in Kuwait has been hushed up, but would the act of reliving the pain merely be a second violation? What is clear is that the women victims of torture have borne their suffering for the whole society, but receive no thanks for doing so.

Al Matar’s subject matter is not all so bleak, however, and she writes earnestly about a variety of subjects including motherhood and love. Her poetry is direct and honest and the narration is wry and likeable.


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