The Heart and the Subsidiary: Fatima Al Matar
A formidable intelligence roars through these poems, published by AuthorHouse, with a tenacious grasp of the idea that the smallest thing contributes to the whole. Or, perhaps, that no thing in our daily routines is a small thing. As a surgeon severs flesh, Fatima Al Matar dissects emotions with discerning imagination and brutal realism.
Her poems are written mainly in the first person (or third party “she”, which seems a studied reflection of “I”). They give the impression of a private diary exposing intensely personal thoughts. Perhaps they are not autobiographical, but represent typical characters in universal stories. Whichever, the relentless persona of one woman gives this poetry penetrating power. The style is eclectic, as you would expect from jottings in a journal, a driven writer sorting through memories to find plotlines of cause and effect. Free association, yes, but not undisciplined, and never superficial.
Throughout her work, Fatima’s command of innovative metaphor does not falter. Her reflective imagery falls gently, unexpectedly, so that you anticipate being pleasured by the beauty of her language. Yet the tone is often bitter, her comparisons venomous, many descriptions emotionally raw. She ravages the discordant memories of childhood; the abuse of a helpless wife; the after-effects of a ruined marriage; and the diversity of happiness. She keeps the reader “in conversation” with poems that are substantive and unpredictable. Her perspective is so discerning that introspection does not become self-indulgent.
“The Heart” as metaphor for “Love” is a huge undertaking. Fatima has arranged her theme into four categories of MotherDaughter, Inspired, Abused and After Love. As introduction to her volume, MotherDaughter poems are well-placed, the parent-child relationship being common experience. No one could be immune to their intimacy. But, in this section, I was distracted by erratic punctuation and the odd spelling error. However, from the start I was captured by the essential quality of Fatima’s ideas. I read on, increasingly absorbed by the scope of her search for self-understanding. Through the following sections she exposes the struggle of one girl/woman from childhood naivety, through marital disillusionment, to self-pride, always fighting for wisdom. A state in process as evidenced in The Heart and the Subsidiary, her penultimate poem, like the summary paragraph of a thesis.
In my opinion, this book should be read through in total if possible, to acquire an overview. Then, the individual sections deserve closer attention to appreciate her argument. Finally, preferred poems will certainly be selected for their individuality. I cannot see how this volume will ever be placed on a shelf to gather dust. Cynthia Buell Thomas