Ever Since I Did Not Die
TRANSLATED BY ISIS NUSAIR
REVIEWED BY REBECCA RUTH GOULD
Syrian Palestinian writer Ramy Al-Asheq opens this collection with the declaration “I have no head, no name, no identity. I gathered these pieces while fully believing that reality needs me to be a writer more than a poet.” Written as a series of prose vignettes, Ever Since I Did Not Die seems to defy genre altogether, with the author determined to “save this collection from classification.” The translation by Isis Nusair reproduces this indeterminacy in lucid prose that molds itself to the rhythms of English syntax.
The collection tracks the author’s journey from Yarmouk, Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, to Germany, as it chronicles war and violence as well as the blossoming and demise of the speaker’s love affair with a woman whom he weaves in and out of the narrative, as if she were a ghost or a fragment of a life left behind. For the refugee, “even a temporary homeland becomes a prison,” writes Al-Asheq, whose reflections on love and mourning are shot through with acute observations that translate intimate pain and suffering into universal experience. “Longing is a voice, and I have lost mine—if I ever had one at all,” says the poet, but these fragments reveal a voice that is at once vulnerable in its quest for love and also courageous in its demand for justice. This work makes for painful reading: it shines a light on our collective inadequacies, as a species and as individuals, in our lives and loves, and it brings into public view our failed attempts to right the wrongs that have been visited on innocent peoples across the centuries.
This review first appeared in The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Books here.