by Carmina Masoliver

Sense Me, by Annum Salman, arrives in a beautiful box filled with paper hearts, shredded tissue paper and a plastic blue quill-style pen. I received it after seeing her feature at That’s What She Said, a spoken word night in London.  The book and the box are perfect for Instagram, yet I didn’t expect to see a ‘social media etiquette’ flyer inside, which strikes me as a clever touch necessary for a self-published text.

The length of the poems vary. There are some poems that are longer, more reminiscent of those you would hear in a poetry slam, but these are balanced with the shorter ones that capture snapshots that get quickly to the heart of the matter. What is unusual, however, is that the poems are much shorter than the ones that usually inhabit the open mic scene. Perhaps this is the influence of Salman’s study of Creative Writing MA at the University of Surrey and offers us a reinterpretation of the medium. Still, part of the appeal of reading poetry that veers towards the spoken word is the familiarity of hearing the words on stage. This is most true for the poem ‘Anna’, which has also been made into a video accompanied by music and choreography.

I have always enjoyed the pairing of poetry with illustrations, and this collection contains many of them – mainly figures and faces. The simple line illustrations, black against the white page, remind me of Rupi Kaur, and Salman similarly employs the short form emotionally-charged lines in between the longer pieces. Hang Your Vocabulary, for example, is one sentence:

‘If my body is a closet, my tongue is a skeleton, that rattles with all the dead wishes I made, and the rotten words I never said.’

This piece demonstrates much of what we see in the collection  with a heavy use of metaphor, simile and personification. At moments like these, poetry is at its strongest. However, although Salman had an editor for the collection, Simon Richardson, and the layout of words on the page has been carefully considered, more attention could have been paid to both this and the use of capital letters on each line. Furthermore, at 145 pages long, I feel that a shorter pamphlet of poems would have been more impactful. Having also self-published during my MA, I think it is an important step for some writers; this collection certainly shows promise, but I felt it could have been distilled further.

One of the strongest pieces was Beauty and The Beast – an evocative poem using the subtle repetition of ‘I told him today’, references to mouths and kissing and cigarette smoke. Throughout the collection, love and pain blend together, and some poems speak to readers through this relatability. This is especially visible in A Rigged Game, which could be argued as connecting the patriarchal ideas of gender to more intimate relationships, where women are blamed for ‘feeling more than what was necessary’. The accompanying illustration is also a favourite: a heart held above an open mouth. Mass Murderer contains so many brilliant lines of metaphors and similes, with the idea of hosting funerals within the body. More positive aspects of the heart are also considered, and with A Lyrical Affair, I enjoy many of the references to musical instruments, allowing for the readers to recreate a sensual experience.  

Lineage […] ends with the wonderful image of a key rattling as a means to escape the historical domesticity and inferiority of women.

Originally from Pakistan, English is not Salman’s native tongue and she touches on this in poems like Anna, and Accents, where she is able to explore the beauty of language along with issues of colonialism, referencing ‘pure white words’ (Accents) and ‘you speak the language of those who had conquered your land before you had been born’ (Anna). She also writes about gender expectations from her own cultural viewpoint, explored most clearly in Lineage, which ends with the wonderful image of a key rattling as a means to escape the historical domesticity and inferiority of women.

Ideas of masculinity are also explored, such as in Hero Zero, where Salman examines the idea of crying, strength and allusions to superheroes. Some of these poems allow the reader to work more to find the meaning. When A Boy Becomes A Man, takes the reader on a journey through ages, building up to an act of violence, illustrating how gender norms and conditioning can lead to a perceived entitlement to commit violent acts. Similarly, in Harassment Was a Game of Temperatures, we are given a set of one-line images to a rising temperature, allowing us to fill in the blanks.

To conclude, there are some stand-out poems within this collection, yet it could benefit from the idea of less is more on the whole. Similarly, if you enjoy the passionate performances of Salman, you will also benefit from being able to get a sense of this from the page.

Sense Me is available online from Author House.

Featured image courtesy of Annum Salman, available here.

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