Exiles of Eden

Exiles of Eden

Exiles of Eden looks at the origin story of Adam, Eve, and their exile from the Garden of Eden, exploring displacement and alienation from its mythological origins to the present. Steeped in Somali narrative tradition yet formally experimental, Osman's poems give voice to the experiences and traumas of displaced people over multiple generations. The characters in these poe...

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Title:Exiles of Eden
Author:Ladan Osman
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Exiles of Eden Reviews

  • Leslie Reese

    by Ladan Osman

    I held a mirror under my nose,

    walked on the ceiling, hopped onto light covers,

    stepped over doorframes, all rooms made new.

    I'd wait when my breath fogged glass,

    careful not to tilt the handle, glimpse my face.

    I'd check my hair in glances, in the metal strip

    at the side of the fridge.

    I used my fingers to see the welts

    from young, tender sticks, small rocks,

    "Bleed!" a boy yelled but didn't wait

    for the slow zipper of my flesh

    to travel down my T-shirt.

    "Look at all

    by Ladan Osman

    I held a mirror under my nose,

    walked on the ceiling, hopped onto light covers,

    stepped over doorframes, all rooms made new.

    I'd wait when my breath fogged glass,

    careful not to tilt the handle, glimpse my face.

    I'd check my hair in glances, in the metal strip

    at the side of the fridge.

    I used my fingers to see the welts

    from young, tender sticks, small rocks,

    "Bleed!" a boy yelled but didn't wait

    for the slow zipper of my flesh

    to travel down my T-shirt.

    "Look at all this sand! This paper!

    These dead leaves!" my mother would say.

    The water from my hair was often brown.

    "I was playing. We were all playing."

    An older boy raised a block of snow,

    brought it down on my temple.

    I could see my back door.

    The frozen pavement showed sky,

    and my eyes like raw chicken,

    too pink from not crying.

    There were friendly blue orbs, then nothing.

    Then adults showing but not stopping their cars,

    though I'd have crawled to the road if they'd called me.

    Then all the pink mouths. Fruit-punch mouths

    showing evidence of every drink and sauce.

    He left a little volcano near my eye,

    clotted with aspen blood. So similar

    to smoke-plant pods found in the burrs.

    I covered it with my hair, pressed it away

    with cold-water toilet paper.

    These people can do whatever they want.

    How long have they been doing whatever,

    like I'm a hated dish towel, mildewed and carried in pinches.

    They want to set me by the burner while they stand at the sink.

    "Hey Niggerface, come here with that big forehead.

    Let us rest our candle on it," the night the block's lights

    went out. "Let us burn you. How long would it take

    to burn you?" Their spit from behind fences when I passed:

    it hung on chain links, thick and white

    and full of the same something

    that kept me from looking at my entire face at once.

    They displayed dogs with bared teeth:

    "Big Red busts basketballs."

    A demonstration. The dog sent after me,

    they screaming hysterically

    when the animal stopped short.

    The dog might snap its teeth for show.

    What restrains it, what propels its owners.

    from pages 28-29 of

  • leynes

    Well, this didn't quite work out as planned. I thought I would absolutely adore

    but overall felt rather lukewarm about it. In 2019, I wanted to check out more poetry written by African authors. When researching what might interest me, I stumbled upon the work of Ladan Osman. In 2014, she was awarded the annual Sillerman First Book Prize for her collection

    . Her newest collection was just released this may and has gotten raving reviews from Danez Smit

    Well, this didn't quite work out as planned. I thought I would absolutely adore

    but overall felt rather lukewarm about it. In 2019, I wanted to check out more poetry written by African authors. When researching what might interest me, I stumbled upon the work of Ladan Osman. In 2014, she was awarded the annual Sillerman First Book Prize for her collection

    . Her newest collection was just released this may and has gotten raving reviews from Danez Smith and Safia Elhillo. Two of my absolute favorite poets.

    is marketed as a look on the origin story of Adam, Eve, and their exile from the Garden of Eden, "exploring displacement and alienation from its mythological origins to the present." Unfortunately, I can't quite agree with that. Apart from the last poem in the collection and a few references here and there, the story of Adam and Eve isn't elaborated upon in Ladan's poetry. I was very disappointed by that since it was one of my main incentives for picking up this collection.

    Overall, I just didn't connect to Ladan's words. A lot of her poems focused on her sexual encounters and her relationship to her ex-husband. These poems did absolutely nothing for me. On top of that, I don't think that her writing style is quite lyrical. Her poems feel more like regular sentences. Don't get me wrong, her poetry is not in the slightest like your typical Rupi Kaur "let's just type a sentence and hit the space bar too often", Ladan's poems are long and of the narrative type. She tries to tell a full story with them. Nonetheless, I cannot help wondering if regular prose would've been more fitting for what Ladan tried to achieve.

    Woah, there's a lot to unpack here. This was actually one of my favorite passages from her poem "You Return with the Water: Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2004", in which she deals with the tension between her and her husband who serves in the army. Her writing is a little un-elegant (and no, not just because she uses the word "fart") and whilst I can see what she did there (to show the paradox of how the war her husband is fighting in is a very personal thing for her, too) I cannot help but still feel a disconnect.

    What I found interesting about this poetry collection is the incorporation of photographs, some of which were taken by the author herself and some of which are from other sources. I wouldn't say that the photographs always complemented her words but I cannot deny that some of the photographs by themselves were poems in themselves, especially "Rebound Rapt, 2016" was absolutely mesmerising. It's a photo of a group of Black men looking enraptured upwards at a basketball which is out of the picture.

    Some of her verses were absolutely brilliant though. Ladan is able to put her heartbreak, her inability to love herself into such simple words. Her disgust, her fears, her disappointment ("I'm the most romantic man that I know") are often aptly described. Now that's what I call poetry. However, those moments of brilliance were rather sparse in this collection.

    I also found it interesting that some of her poems dealt with the history of Black people in America, specifically "After the Photograph of Emmett Till's Open Casket, 1955" ("think, maybe it wouldn't be so bad / if Emmett / appeared in his white shirt / and explained / some things. Mainly, / if it's as bad / as I think it is / when they finally get their hands on you.") and "NSFW" ("I want you to recite your lineage. / Let us make formal prayers for the names we forget, / for the ones that history took.") and "Think of Me as Your Mother", a poem written for young men being held in prison ("I wish I could take you into my belly. I think it's the only safe place for you.")

    So, there are definitely certain lines in her poems that are extremely hard-hitting and well-executed. In general, I would say that Ladan's strong point are her political poems. I like how she explores her own identity being trapped between her place of birth, Somalia, and the place where she grew up, the U.S., how she wants to (but can't quite) reconcile the two. You get a sense that she sometimes even feels guilty that she was able to leave Somalia behind and lead a comparatively easy life in the U.S. ("

    , an African witch from Atlanta says. /

    ) and I found that quite relatable, since those are thoughts that many people with a history of migration face.

    In general, the last poem of the collection "Refusing Eurydice" was pretty damn solid and I would recommend checking it out: "We refuse the spirits that attempt oppression, / and we refuse the spirits that attempt possession. / [...] We are looking for a better myth. / We've been looking since Eve."

    And just in case you're interested, I changed my rating from two to three stars after writing this review and going through some of her poems again. That makes me wonder whether this collection will improve upon a reread. I often fear that I'm rushing through poetry collections without giving then the time to breath. We'll see. For now, I am happy that I checked out Ladan's work but will probably wait a bit before reading her debut collection.

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