Comfortable neither with the self made entirely through autonomy or genealogy, SPEECH tracks ideas of freedom as a woman walks, threading her way through a cityscape. Place and home are recursively made in this deftly woven book-length poem overlaying west and east, here and there, past and present, citizen and other.
In SPEECH, both kinds are deconstructed, speeches throughout history are woven in and reflected upon, speech as a given, as a “right,” is pushed against as an assumption, speech of the powerful versus those marked invisible, speech of different kinds: written, verbal, animal and sonic gestures are all carefully considered in this wide torrent of investigatory lyric.
The poems reach through conflict, crises and trauma for solutions but hold no solutions but the obvious, that we should be better to each other, and for each other. Why aren’t more readers listening?
Abu Dhabi-based poet and artist Jill Magi furnishes SPEECH, her new book-length poem published earlier this month, with layered textures of language, subject, and object, calling at the delineations of border and sending her subject through them. That subject, however, “won’t be indexed precisely,” Magi asserts in the books appendix, “Painting a bibliography.” She asserts further that SPEECH is as much an archive, of painting– of movement– of place, as it is a poetic engagement.
Magi deftly explains how race, class, sex and sexuality are ranked in our world’s radical system, at once tough and fragile. Her words invite us to reach up to the glass ceiling, knock on it, and consider carefully what doors open for us.
SPEECH is a record of searching, of crisscrossing, going around in circles, all the vectors, tangents, and arcs of one seeking belongingness without belonging.
It is unsurprising to learn that Magi is also a weaver, knitter, and sewer. You feel this quality in the way her impossible citizen walks—or, better yet, weaves—through the city, pulling its various histories and injuries into this text. A true cosmopolitan may, perhaps, be a loom. Maybe Magi’s impossible citizen isn’t not possible, but rather, her ways are unrecognized. Her manner is to create.
I now know that Abu Dhabi never needed me to decipher its shapes as if there is one way to read or one way to re-write its codes. A new texture—and a new book—has come from shirking the idea that there is a necessary text that I must write. Weaving and walking in Abu Dhabi has shown me to keep returning to the street and to the desk: ground and sky, living and walking, sure only of the motion that moves bodies and language back and forth along paths that intersect and diverge.
Reading Jill Magi’s newest poetry collection SPEECH is like going for a walk inside someone else’s dream… SPEECH is not just a cognitive mapping of a Middle Eastern city, but the unveiling of how one ingests a physical space and attempts to produce a poetic response—a simple act of speech.