The tensions of hyperreality and ancestry: Leila Lois reviews ‘about: blank’ by Tracy Fuad

about: blank by Tracy Fuad, University of Pittsburg Press, 2021.

A poetic exploration of the dual experiences of extrication and loss; youth and survivor guilt; connection and dissipation, Tracy Fuad’s debut poetry collection about: blank—so titled as this is the URL for a blank web page—problematises belonging, as a concept and a practice. While remaining loyal to her diasporic experience as a woman of mixed heritage (Kurdish-American), the book has universal scope. Cutting straight through the reader and at the same time evoking tenderness, it surfaces the remnants of memory in us and explores longing.

Fuad uses a meld of internet language from forums and cell phones as well as Kurdish-English dictionaries and proverbs (possibly from virtual sources for their obscure images, or reimagined by Fuad herself). Also present are the delicate dot patterns of deq tattoos, an ancient Kurdish form of personal adornment. Each word, symbol and image in this exceptional collection resonates with meaning, hums with stories untold.

Throughout the book, the elusive nature of language and culture is explored so that we are left wondering what is found and what is imagined. Being of Kurdish heritage myself, I appreciate how this book highlights the threats of exile, genocide and diaspora upon the beautiful intergenerational magic we possess. The book is a living document of fragmentation and pixelation of this magic, as well as exploring the ways in which the contemporary urge to seek and know more about one’s true ancestral roots is leading to rediscovery. The book about: blank hones in as it progresses even more upon the experience of young women of mixed- heritage growing up in a post-internet age.

“I” want you to promise….. you will hold the shard
funny…. that we tend to buy it…. the idea of the past
being buried….. ….. ….. depending on the number
of exclamatory marks “I” type…… an algorithm
offers up a blue heart….. ….. ….. a bursting pink one
or a lipstick print….. ….. ….. ….. it’s possible
that by describing this in literal terms
it must by nature fall……. ….. completely flat.

This extract from one of several poems entitled ‘Objet’ evinces skilful scrutiny of the nature and intent of language/translation through an experience many of us can relate to; algorithmic, predictable text and emojis. In so doing, perhaps Fuad is demonstrating the double predicament posited via personal histories of colonialism and technocracy, threatening erasure of own voices. There is a constant tension between own voices and co-opted voices in this collection, such that at times makes it difficult to discern where the voice (subject) and juggernaut of internet hypercapitalist culture (interloper) is talking. Such is the challenge of this book and a welcome one at that. It seems to continue and contemporise Jean Baudrillard’s theories of postmodernity in bewildering yet candid, confessional ways. The voice of the poems is embodied and personal, as Fuad’s own. There are moments where we just want to embrace her words and say ‘I’ve felt this too.’

Fuad’s ambivalence and disorientation on this journey is palpable as she frequently returns to experiences in the body as some kind of cross-check of self and identity. The opening poem ‘Iraq Vaq Panic’ recounts an appointment with a male gynecologist as he inspects her (both physically and through impertinent questioning). This is one of several instances where Fuad narrates the trespassing and violation of her body and privacy. Later in the poem, when on a plane to Kurdistan, there are allusions to belly dancing and referring to the geography from the air as ‘the fertile crescent’. The palpable discomfort of these kinds of exchanges, (call them ‘micro-aggressions’) against women of mixed heritage, is laid out for further exploration.

Another poem that heart-breakingly explores the corporeal and emotional tumult of coming from a diaspora that carries so much loss is ‘Considering the Unit of the Day’. The poem dances between daily experiences in her ‘first adult apartment’ e.g. ‘Found myself unable to retrieve my laundry from the basement’ and aching feelings of discombobulation, culminating in the final stanza:

Considered the role of memory and agony in pleasure
Told myself that I deserved to be in hot discomfort
Asked myself why I was crying
Well, I was missing someone. I was missing my self, too.

This poem reflects upon hybrid identity, the pain and solace that comes in waves when reconnecting with memory, ancestral and personal. This comes through in the schism of ‘my self’ into two parts. Fuad’s depictions of Kurdistan are at times romantic and at other times real. She echoes the mystical tradition of Kurdish poetry, while tempering it with a strong dose of millennial skepticism. The scene is set with Sherko Bekas, whose poem from the Secret Diary of a Rose appears at the front of the book:

…the dream came true,
but after a while, I became weary of it.

A perfectly selected epigraph for about:blank, as weary dreaming is thematically central to the collection.

Fuad said in interview for The Poetry Foundation podcast, regarding Kurdish culture:

And so you can’t help but feel in contact with something very ancient. & Kurds themselves, although most of them don’t live in villages anymore, romanticized village life is very deeply a part of Kurdish identity. So, I’m so drawn to that.

In the final poem in her collection, speaking of a visit to Kurdistan, Fuad ties together the tensions of hyperreality and ancestry, longing and belonging so artfully.

Her final phrase:

the vines grew up over the windows………is there another word for startled?
a flowering species that hasn’t been known to flower since 1948
it got too tired to make more of itself …....the rapid of know in any tense
Is there another word for word? Is there another word for other?

Here we are reminded of the dangers of ‘othering’, the great damage that colonialism and genocide have done to lives while also being reminded of the remarkable beauty and resistance of culture (through the motif of the flower blossoming after seventy years of presumed extinction). Fuad’s words ignite, scorch and soothe in times of bewilderment and loss.

References:
Poetry off the Shelf Podcast by Poetry Foundation, My Imagined Incoherence with Tracy Fuad
July 27, 2021 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/156255/my-imagined-incoherence

 – Leila Lois

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Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.

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about: blank is available from the University of Pittsburg Press