Kathleen Winter’s Nostalgia for the Criminal Past is a delightful work of re-personalizing the past. How can one remember and write the specificity of a narrative that has been taken over by a communal history—one that has become mankind’s past? What do the expulsion from Eden or Apollo 11 have to do with singularity since their appropriation by a male world? Winter re-personalizes these narratives; her language reaching back to an emotional sensibility accurate to the extent of reworking what we think we know about these common stories. Her wit, humour, and keen poetic eye subtly take over our presumptuous knowledge; the result is a human singularity we didn’t know we were craving so much.
In “Nostalgia for Apollo”, Winter writes:
I miss their elevated heart-rates
at the takeoff, god-like, their views of Earth’s
swirled atmosphere, their cowboy tendency
to terseness, their ticker-tape parades, their quaint
faith in our nation, their quaint male
universe in which I was a lovely
and silent child.
Winter’s detailed descriptive elements in these lines define a speaker presence and an authority of voice that allow an intimacy—as ironic as this intimacy is—that transforms the Apollo mission into a singular experience observed by this “lovely” and “silent” child. The communal and the individual are conflated, their boundaries confused. Yet, the affect is not one of alienation, but rather, perhaps, a rewriting of the difference between what is singular and common. One that carves a space for Winter—and the rest of us—in writing and poetic expression.
The voyeuristic speaker in a “male world” is a common theme in this book. Eve and Eden come up twice, in delightfully humorous and poignant ways. “Morning Poem” is an excellently horrifying account of a car accident. The range of intellectual and emotional work that Winter achieves through preciseness of language and variation of form (she uses both prose poems, long open field-like lines, and sparse short stanzas) make Nostalgia for the Criminal Past an admirable debut and a valuable book of contemporary poetry.
If you are at all interested in the Arab Spring, Arab Feminism, The Blue Bra of Tahrir Square, the consistently offensive “portrayal” of the niqab and/or hijab, these two articles are for you. One appeared in Foreign Policy’s Sex Issue, and a response to it on Al Monitor.
To give a piece of my mind here, as much as I agree with ElTahawy’s rage at the treatment of women, I was, indeed, offended by the photographs of the nude, body sprayed woman. It brings to mind the annoying habit of “sensationalising” Arab and Muslim women’s issues. Why does it have to be about the hijab or niqab? Why does it even have to be about religion in the first place? Aren’t we over these offensive, cliche, and orientalist portrayals yet?
This pretty much made my day.
One of the most controversial topics in Jordanian (& Arab) Feminist issues is Honour Killings. Honour Killings are in no way a “religious matter” as some people try to identify them (in regards to their defense or their protest). Honour Killings is a phenomenon that is the outcome of sexism and lack of education. It is about the control over a woman’s body by her family members–often, the men. It is when a family member kills a woman if she is suspected of having soiled her family’s honour by engaging in sexual activity (or in some cases a mere nonsexual relationship) outside of marriage. What makes this social issue even more problematic is that there is a legally reduced sentence for murderes accused of Honour Killings in Jordan.
There have been numerous activist groups trying to combat Honour Killings and spread awareness in Jordan. There are petitions being signed and books written on the subject; and people have been trying to change the law, as well as the cultural view toward the moral legitimacy of Honour Killings, for years.
Now, this is the part I am excited about:
A nine year old girl, who was told she was unable to sign a petition called “Where do We Stand?” protesting Honour Killings because she is not of legal age yet, wrote this lovely letter : (translation from Arabic is my own, & am afraid so much of the cuteness and brilliance of this is lost between languages)
I am Raneem Abdullah.
I am a nine year old girl, and I cannot sign the “Where do we stand?” petition. But I am a girl, and I am against Honour Killings committed against girls, because it is not anyone’s right to rob someone else of their right to live. I have to defend my rights and express my protest against killing girls, and protest this view that is not so nice toward girls in society.
I have to defend my rights and learn how to do it now.
So what if I am only nine years old?
I am going to sign anyway:
Raneem Rashad Abdullah Mohammed
A reader may think: why is this so impressive?
I think it is extremely impressive that a nine-year- old has such a strong opinion. It is so impressive that she feels that she should (& can!) express her opinion. It is so impressive that she does not understand why her age would not allow her to have an opinion. The amount of awareness and defiance in this letter amazes me.
In my experience, many people in Jordan, especially women, do not feel “entitled” to a voice, or to such a strong opinion. I remember discussing Honour Killings in an undergraduate class where almost all of the 30 students did not understand the problematic logic behind a woman “representing” her family’s honour, or the horrifying logic leading to a murder justified in the name of “honour”.
Reading this Feminist statement coming from a nine year old girl restores my belief that change is possible. This feminist challenges my belief that violence against women is not as engrained in our Jordanian (or American for that matter, regarding issues of sexual violence, rights to abortion, etc) cultural psyches as I have always thought it is.
For me, this is an interesting blog entry to write, especially because I felt a compulsion to write a similar one a couple of months ago on a social media platform called 7iber in Jordan. The question that I seem to encounter a lot, both in Jordan and the US, is “Why feminism? Isn’t it obsolete? Why is it important?”.
At AWP, while I was at So to Speak’s book fair table, a writer, also a woman, questioned feminism (alongside our Nonfiction Editor’s biological gender; she tactlessly asked him if he used to be a woman.) She asked, “Why feminist? Isn’t that over?” Our Nonfiction editor tried to engaged her in conversation, informed her how our editors are a mix of women, men, and genderqueer individuals, and how our definition of feminism is broad and inclusive. Her response was dismissive at best. I didn’t say anything at all, but I thought, you should have come to our panel. You should have seen how feminism is important, how Arielle, Eloise, Ru, Mack, and Cate talked about it. How they revealed statistics, personal and professional anecdotes, and how we discussed the essential, yet sometimes problematic, idea of the label.
HAPPY 2012, EVERYONE!
Our reading period for the Fall 2012 Issue opens today! We are looking for great poetry, nonfiction, and art , as well as fiction for our Fall 2012 contest, which will be judged by Ru Freeman.
(Note that Ru is also a participant in So to Speak‘s AWP panel, titled “Troubling the Label:When Does a Text Become Feminist.” Make sure you attend the panel and swing by our bookfair table in Chicago this February/March!!)
For the full submission guidelines, please visit our Submit page.
Wishing you happy reading & writing in 2012!
The So to Speak staff