“Don’t tell me stories about great kings/tell me stories about great queens who ran the world/ and were never heard of/ Don’t tell me what to become/let me become what I want/ Don’t use religion against me/or threaten me with hell/Being a slave to a man is hell enough”.
Nour Morjan is a feminist Syrian immigrant living in Shropshire. Hers is poetry of resistance, rebellion and activism. Her poems express a powerful belief in women’s right to own their bodies; she questions both patriarchal societies in general but also deep-rooted religious impositions as a woman in her quest to discover a comfortable, happy, place. Juggling being a Muslim feminist — who refuses to wear a headscarf and who has strong opinions on abortion rights— with being a mother and wife is certainly not an easy task.
“All the open spaces are free/no effort/no pain/no need to fit in/and because we could fit anywhere/we could be the space”
In her poetry, readers can sense Nour’s internal battles to find a sense of belonging, lost when she moved to the UK. In constant dialogue with herself, as an immigrant, she experiences loss of identity, cultural shock, but also self-growth. Living between cultures gives Nour Morjan an insight into what makes her a woman.
Here, she is her own space where she doesn’t need to fit in to be recognised as an independent woman and to celebrate herself. She is the ‘queen’ of her destiny and unlike those female monarchs who have been hidden by His-tory, she writes poetry which helps her to create her own Her-story.
She is the place, and she is the power that patriarchy and religion constantly try to undermine.
DAVID CLARK –
Notes on Nour Morjan’s book I Am The Power You Undermine.
Reviewed by David Clark, member of Exiled Writers Ink.
Nour Morjan is a Syrian writer now living in exile in England. Many of her poems speak of the constantly changing adjustments to life away from home as well as the ever-changing sense of self and identity that ensued. A process that is not without its own challenges, joys and sadness.
Visually, the poems are presented in a most aesthetic and pleasing manner on the page.
Each poem has its own individual visual presence and character. There are no stanza breaks in the shorter poems, and here, the geometric patterns embedded in the layout of each line help to structure the poem and lend it a magical quality.
Some of the longer poems have stanza breaks inserted, but here too, the varying layout for each line and the resultant geometric shapes help to mirror the mood of the poem.
The overall effect of such intricate spatial layout is to complement the voice of the poet. This is especially so when you do not have a live person in front of you reading the poem out aloud. So much can be conveyed by intonation of voice, by body language, by sheer presence and charisma.
For me, and for many a reader brought up to treasure libraries and books more generally, there is certain charm in touching and handling a book, the feel of the book, but also the look of it, visually, the illustrations, the layout as a whole.
It is clear to me that the poet has not only thought carefully about what to write in each poem, what words to use, but also how such words should appear on the page. Everything is carefully and intricately woven together.
It is also clear that it is all deeply felt, from a personal and a feminist perspective, from someone who is ready to shout about injustice, but also ready to take action and do something about it.
All the poems are written from a deeply personal perspective and allude to the struggle to be oneself, in a world that is constantly changing, constantly making new demands and in a world where the self is also undergoing change at the same time.
While many of the themes that emerge from these poems are universal and apply to all of us, men and women alike, there is also the very particular circumstances that the poet brings with her.
Two of her poems refer to this specifically, but all her poems are touched by it. She is, as she states, a refugee. Lost and Found portrays a very simplistic picture; she fled, she had a home back then, and when she arrives, she is told that she is now safe, given a home, a key, some money.
Yet, all the poems in this collection allude to the fact that it is not that simple. In the poem New Beginning, she walks, breathes and sleeps in her new ‘home’ as a stranger and she still carries what’s left of her pride. All the while, she dreams of ‘normality’. But normality and acceptance are elusive.
In her poem Inclusion, she states, ‘we squeeze our size to fit in
then we get ripped off
we suffer pain’.
Elsewhere she describes the constant battle to fit in and adjust, while seeking to retain her own sense of esteem and self-confidence. In her poem Where, When, How, and Who, she brilliantly illustrates the dilemmas she faces on a daily basis, in just a few words, but so eloquently. These are existential questions that we have all faced, in one way or another, at one point or another. Yet these are questions which loom large for each refugee who has been torn away from her or his native environment. The rules and norms governing behaviour in the homeland no longer apply and they have to face these dilemmas at every twist and turn of their new existence, often alone.
The poet gradually comes to realise that the daily battles she faces, with the world outside, and with her own inner world, are not in vain. In her poem Worth It, she asserts that ‘we fight battles everyday of our lives’ but we learn and grow as a result. Some battles are gained, some are lost and some time is needed for healing, but it is all worth it, as she says. I find many of her poems so insightful and uplifting.
Another such poem is Perfect. Here she manages to fit in and adjust, not only to her surroundings, but also to her true inner self. She sees an imperfect world and an imperfect self. But she is able to accept herself, with her own faults and flaws; she will never be without imperfection, but she is happy just to be who she is.
Her powerful poem, I Am The Power You Undermine, the poem that lends the title to the collection, takes the reader one step further. ‘I am what your eyes see
what your ears hear
what your head thinks’.
But the next line says it all, simply and beautifully: ‘ I’m more
To be followed immediately by another insight: ‘I’m chained and I’m free
Let me be heard
Sound and clear’.
In this poem she also proudly proclaims that she is a woman, with a gender, breathing life into the world. This is a healing mantra that she has to tell not only those around her, but also needs to tell herself, for in a sense, she too can be a power that undermines her own self-esteem. This notion is conveyed, again with much insight, in her poem Moon Circle. Here she addresses the theme of depression; when feeling on top of the world, we thrust ourselves into the limelight. Yet when feeling low, we gradually seek to hide ourselves in obscurity. Gradually too, we re-emerge from the darkness and seek to shine again.
Life is indeed a battle, the battle to maintain the balance between the old and the new, the demands of the outside world and the demands of the self. This is indeed the terrain that Nour Morjan explores so beautifully and powerfully in her poems.
Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes –
Many thanks for this thorough and insightful review of Nour Morjan’s poetry. The only thing I want to state and clarify here is that Nour does not consider herself a refugee but an immigrant. Best wishes, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes.