Departing Souls: Review of Houses of the Dead by Fawzia Kane

Houses of the Dead, a new poetry pamphlet by Fawzia Kane, is a beguiling tour through abandoned dwellings, at first still and empty, but increasingly stirred by the lingering traces of departing souls. May I tempt you with some titles? ‘House of the Vicar who Loved Too Much’, ‘House of the Penitent Bookseller’, ‘House of the Actor of Mystery Plays’ all give a flavour of the ghosts who haunt these powdery pages, though one of my favorite poems was simply called ‘House of the Sculptor’. I heard a echo of Louise Bourgeois in the sculptor’s sometimes brutal renovations of her ill-fitting tower, culminating in a solitary night vigil:

‘When she was satisfied, she placed a red armchair
on the roof. There, from the midnight of her saint’s day,
she would sit alone, watching for dawn.’

An accomplished sequence of prose poems, verse, and carefully cropped black-and-white photography, the book is published by new London press Thamesis Productions. The poet is also an architect in the city, and the ‘grey men’ of the opening ‘Preliminaries’ suggests the capital’s bureaucrats – those who watch and wait for us to crumble – but like London’s inhabitants, and the Trinidad-born author, the poems have a global reach, invoking at various times Texas, North Africa, Borges, and Venezuela’s La Divina Pastora, or Divine Shepherdess. I had a slight preference for the later poems, with their stronger sense of drama, but was also struck by some of the more impossible buildings – ‘There are only walls, angled at times to enclose. . . .’ – while the gradual emergence of memories in the rooms gave the collection a subtle sense of structure. Cataloguing every loss is the recurring figure of ‘The Surveyor’, a presiding spirit who ultimately leads the reader to the most abandoned shell of all.

Disclaimer: I edited Fawzia Kane’s debut collection Tantie Diablesse for Waterloo Press. I bought this pamphlet with no particular intention to review it, but reading it changed the course of my day.

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