Book Review

In the House of My Father by Hiwot Adilow

another kooky blog post

As regular readers of Triumph of the Now may recall, one of my gifts to myself on my last (as in “most recent”, probably not “final” – unless disease-of-the-moment coronavirus gets its way) birthday was a collection of ten poetry chapbooks written by emerging African writers. One of my favourites in that boxset was Prodigal Daughter by Hiwot Adilow, and I immediately ordered her earlier publication after discovering it existed. That book, this one, is a 24ish page chapbook titled In The House of My Father and was published in 2018 by Two Sylvias Press. It’s also great.

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The weather has turned warmer and all of a sudden it’s raining.

For the first time in weeks I’ve gone the entire day (so far) without checking my work emails, which feels like an achievement of sorts, but the fact that it feels like an achievement feels like a kinda worrying thing. I had therapy earlier and I went through the first proofs of my next non-Truther Press book, so it’s not like I had a day devoid of work.

Cubby has been kicking off because it’s raining and that dog hates rain. Though, by “kicking off” I mean flopping around, looking mournfully out of the window and treating the world outside our building with all the attention someone who isn’t too anxious to use urinals would treat a urinal. He will exit to pee, but no more. He hasn’t done a poo in 18 hours. Maybe he doesn’t need to yet, and certainly he doesn’t want to.

It’s deep within my dog, this hatred of rain. His breed is historically from the mountains, so I imagine his ancient psyche tells him to fear open water (it’s cold and it’s fast) but not to fear snow because even though it’s cold it’s not fast. And it’s normal.

Cubby and I have spent the day flirting with taking a walk but never quite doing so. I haven’t got further than my therapist’s office – which is like 400 metres – in one direction, and no further than the little mini-supermarket place where I bought some shaving products in the other, which is like half that distance. As I mentioned in my previous post, I haven’t been shaving as much as I should be, and running out of the materials required to shave myself is a good way to build up towards some kinda internal defence of this omission of personal responsibility.

One other thing I did on this rare day free of attention to the metaphorical capitalist treadmill, or the literal crosstrainer I use at the gym-

I’m currently watching Years and Years, which is great. A few days ago I finished watching Deadwood. It doesn’t really end properly and the “tying up loose ends” TV movie they made last year was deeply underwhelming, especially if – as I did – one rocks into it straight from the show itself. The narratively-needed Deadwood movie was a much less satisfying viewer experience than the narratively-redundant Breaking Bad movie last year, which – rather like Game of Thrones – everyone stopped talking about after like two days.

One other thing I did today was read this Hiwot Adilow chapbook, which I realise I’ve barely mentioned.

Adilow is an Ethiopian-American and her poetry engages with both of these cultures. There are pieces about Ethiopian marriage customs, about absent fathers, about abuse and a memorable one about meeting a father’s secret child and discovering one is no longer the first born of a family.

There’s lots about love and responsibility, and also religiosity. There is writing about pain and pleasure, and how navigating shifting attitudes towards these can be a crucial element of the immigrant experience.

Adilow’s first line in this collection is beautiful, and is a powerful and resonating image:

I held a wilted fist of flowers for hours.

This line may be in iambic pentameter (I don’t know any more) – there is certainly something about its internal rhyme (at least in my dull Middle England accent) that makes its rhythm somewhat hypnotic. The detail that the flowers are wilted, past tense, is crucial: these are not wilting flowers, they were wilted before the speaker began to wait with them. The flowers, the speaker, perhaps both, they were waiting apart before they were waiting together.

Flowers being held in a fist – the alliteration of fist and flowers, the fricative sound, that air tickling the top of the lower lip as it’s pushed out –

Flowers being held in a fist is a pleasing image, because though fist – fight – and flower – funeral or romance – may seem antithetical, it is fact the only real way to hold a bouquet: a fist is naturally formed when holding flowers by the stem, which is how one traditionally holds a flower. Right?

There are other lines as beautiful as this, but as a starting point for a collection it is – in my opinion – wide ranging, powerful and in terms of the characterisation and – let’s be honest – plot contained within these nine words (ten or twelve syllables depending on pronunciation) it is truly exceptional.

I don’t know why I’ve done a garbled, failing GCSE-style close reading of a single line, but, hey: I did.

I enjoyed this collection, there’s some great stuff in it.

I’m gonna go now: I need to shave, I need to cut my nails, I need to eat and I need to cajole Cubby into entering the rain again.

Buy In the House of My Father directly from Two Sylvias Press here.

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