Poet to Watch: Ladan Osman
Poet to Watch: Ladan Osman is the voice we’ve been waiting for.
She was born in Somalia and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She earned a BA from Otterbein University and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers. In 2014 her poetry collection The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony won the annual Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and will be released April 1, 2015. Osman lives in Chicago.
Mystical, down-home, and fearless, Ladan’s poems are unlike anything written before. There is a richness to her work that is magnetizing as she switches between myth and reality, blurring the already thin lines separating confession and meditation.
It is difficult not to trust the speakers in her poems. They seem so young but also wise, like a precocious child from a horror film who can see the ghosts but does not fear them; however, a warning of what they can do is always at the tip of her tongue:
“On Earth I made men into mist, and now feel my own dust wander,
lift, and swirl. In the Afterlife, the weight of bodies
is heavy on the scale. If I were allowed to cry,
my tears would rust its beams. In the Afterlife, their weight
is a smoking fuse. Their souls don’t extinguish, they ignite
and reignite and never explode. I wait.” ~ from her poem “Desertion”
The people who populate her poems are richly embodied, behaving and misbehaving.
I enjoy most that they do not allow things to happen to them. These are not casual acquaintances sitting by while, gently, the world mistreats them into a predictable meditation. These people are aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, vagabonds, doctors, educators, lovers. They populate a real world with concerns that, beyond mimic, they become reality. She says of family:
“Why did our mothers say, “Write!”
and could only sign their names shakily? They had us fill forms
because they pressed too hard. It took too long. Their mothers
signed their names “X” and seemed bashful. My grandfathers
walked out of the bush and into cities
to drive bankers and diplomats. How did all our plans get foiled?
There are truck drivers, programmers, accountants, teachers
in the same man.” ~ from her poem “Partition“
How she renders flesh in these poems is also fascinating, the body always in flux between the world of the living and of the dead, between being above soil and being the very elements themselves:
“Can you smell my scalp through my scarf?
It is like earth after the wash water licks it.” ~ from her poem “Shadow”
“I am subject to you in the way the water is subject
to the moon. You are subject to me in the way a wall
is subject to its roof. And like the water I expect
you to come upon me of a sudden, like flesh
out of a slit in cloth.’ – from her poem “Water”
I’ll end by leaving Ladan Osman the last word:
“I think we have a responsibility to produce the best artifact possible, to allow critique that is at least as rigorous (or generative) as that artifact (ignoring anything that fails in that). To pursue problems of imagination, which is an expansive exercise, and assists in contracted living and policy.”
– photo credit for headline photo goes to Tariq Tarey
– To purchase a copy of her chapbook (along with others in this wonderful anthology of young African poets) please visit Slapering Hol Press.
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