Grand Designs

I’ve spent my free time this week round Omar Sakr’s house. I mean, not literally, but metaphysically. These Wild Houses is a poetry collection that plays with location and identity, and the metaphor of the house — the home — as a person, a body.

Omar invites us into his house with the banalities of domestic decoration — setting out these rules of himself as a space in that familiar way of visiting someone’s home for the first time. Like everyone who own odd, strange and compromised homes — there are the warning of “mind your head” and “watch your step” — you know, our little way of saying that the natural way you inhabit your own home might not come so easily to strangers.

This kicks off another theme in the book — the house as a public and private space — that fact that you can be invited in, the fact that “I am breakable — never / mind the wallpaper claiming otherwise”. This is the idea that even the presentation of ourselves that we choose might not be for all our guests, that, in this context, that wallpaper wasn’t for you.

“here is the un-italicised flavour of my tongue: jahash!” (italics, er, mine) is possibly the best line on presenting foreignness in text I’ve read in some time. The poem Here Is The Poem You Demand is the way in to another part of the identity we are exploring — it links those lines of the name, and the song to be learnt by thick tongued — and says in the linking that there is real praise here, but also a sly kick out at the assumed “authenticity” presented by the stat-line of our queer Muslim Arab Australian from Western Sydney, from a broke and broken home.” The scene is set here, for us to examine our own assumptions and voyeuristic tendencies (a readership of peeping Toms I suppose, given the house context).

The next poem, interacts with the previous directly. Landing shows us how the strain between generations can present it’s own kind of fetish of legacy, or the rejection of it. The older generation speaking as prophets, able to keep the fledgling feathers of their heritage in a way that the poet is confronted by. They almost taunt him with his lack of understanding of the breadth of their loss: “You do not know what it means to take, / to rip your roots from clay and craft them into sails // ready for the sky”.

Equally, the poet resents the uprooters. How much could they have really carried with them? How much did they leave behind, that he, now, cannot inherit, cannot use to furnish his home.

The collection weaves between the tragic of the living and the dead — the grief, the absolution of sin being buried as a newborn — and the more personal building of bricks and mortar.

In Not So Wild we understand that the boys in their budding selves, leave the creek a little less tame each time they visit: “we left them each time a little less tame, naturalised, shaggy with weeds, brambles, the occasional thorn and cobweb.” They leave as freer boys, but it is implied that they have an effect on the location too — do they tame their environment, as it makes them wild? Do they bend it to their will a little in the trampling of brambles. This seems to throw up the idea that the locations inhabited by the poet and himself as a location have a kind of balance. We see the same in a later poem Comin’ Out The Station the gaudy brokenness of hedonistic commercialism (linked with the sexual encounter there) balances with the building of a self image of the gentle haircut the poet will receive, where his identity is built from what he is already made of — chiselled out rather than reflected of the neon. But both inform the identity, both are the reality.

In This Girl, This Country we see a deconstruction of the woman as land/wildness/fertile hills trope that is scattered across most of literature. It’s of particular note, the idea of two girls together is a national park — and their independence is “an indigenous council meeting in a stolen house” — which is to say, there is no maths of the status quo that will make these women human. In Election Day we are reminded, “just water those damn flowers.”

Omar delivers all these with that rush of language and held breath (Call Off Duty, a great example of this) in addresses to various people in his life or those who have left it. I suppose we all receive our post at home, it’s the return address we write on if we want to get a reply.

The house, the body, is a central exploration of the collection — and the tensions and conflict that are presented throughout are where we draw our vibrations from. I would suggest picking up a copy, or at least having a browse of rightmove.

Today’s song is Suicide Dream 1 by How To Dress Well (Live on KEXP). I wrote a whole novel while listening the Love Remains album. It was a pretty miserable novel, surprisingly. But try Lover’s Start from that album if you want to hear him in his more upbeat moments.

Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. It was gently shuffled into place by @CJEggett and proofread by no one. If you spot a typo, let me know. If you think I’m wrong, please also let me know — but, like, tell me why. Did I Mention I Am In The Advertising Business Now? I’ve spent some time on the fun end of a microphone this week and I must say, I don’t sound as bad as I had hoped — although, of course, I eat every 3rd word Marjorie. Send people here to subscribe. Send people here to pretend it’s 2014. Send yourself here for a bonus poem. And finally, send someone here if they like thinking about hands.

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