A sense of the magical: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews ‘Something Wrong’ by Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen

Something Wrong by Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen 2012

In the current discussion of Australian poetry multiculturalism seems to be an important point of reference. Today’s poetry should and does reflect our transnational lives and global concerns, as well as the ethnic diversity of our population, but what is sadly not reflected is the poetic traditions we bring, as migrants and children of migrants, to our literary culture. In Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s new book, Something Wrong (his second written in English – he has published fourteen in all) the Iraqi-Australian poet brings us a romanticism uncommon to today’s Australian poetry. I am reminded of a quote by the respected literary critic I. A. Richards, who said that poetry is ‘a perfectly possible means of overcoming chaos’. I believe this is the motive behind Something Wrong.

In the book we are presented with worldly woes, which is to say the human condition. Kamal Ad-Deen clearly sees the connectedness of man to child to bird to the elements and (my personal favourite) to the letter. The sorrows and joys and mysteries of our world are similarly his, carrying an equal weight, and he makes sense of our chaos – the inherent grandness of it – by making sense of his own personal space. These are poems of love and death and acceptance –big issues which can too often be mistaken as banal motifs for their ‘inherent grandness’. The poet explores these abstracts through a sense of the magical and the cyclical, paving the way for a structure which supports a progressive circularity so that if we begin with a white bird, we often end with a white bird; the world is ultimately logical (however chaotic) and it is therefore as it should be. In this light, repetition is both natural and desired, as in the stunning title poem:

There is something wrong in the bed
In the bird that flew over the bed,
In the poem that was written
To describe the pleasures of the bed
And in the surprise waiting for the bed at the end.


‘Bed’ moves between subject and object. It takes on the form of inanimate object and, in the final line, something seemingly supernatural. It is merely a bed, it is desire, it is sex and it is a possible destructiveness. It’s not a secret that repetition has become a stylistic oddity in our culture – just pick up any recent anthology and count how many poems incorporate the device – and when you read Kamal Ad-Deen’s work you begin to wonder why. What’s then made painfully obvious is that there is a deeper loss involved, and that is the loss of the lyric poem. Is there an intrinsic simplicity in the lyric poem which frightens us? (Though I must admit that I found myself re-reading stanzas which ended in exclamation points as if they had ended in full stops, perhaps doing a disservice to Kamal Ad-Deen and the culture of poetics he offers, but helping to appease my Western sensibilities.)

Something Wrong is a book which would leave a mark in any hemisphere in which it is read, but it is an especially important book to be read in Australia. It not only shows us how far we’ve come in diversifying the meaning and the means of poetry, but, like an examination of the progress of civilisation might make us desire an untouched nature, it also reminds us where we’ve come from. That is a precious thing.

– Heather Taylor Johnson


Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death will be published by HarperCollins.

Details on how to obtain a copy of Something Wrong can be found at http://www.adeebk.com/plaz/225.htm

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