I was sent copies of these titles for review purposes. All thoughts are my own. This post features affiliate links
Over the summer, I saw a few Bookstagram accounts raving about early review copies of Fariha Róisín’s How to Cure a Ghost. I didn’t pay too much attention to it, other than to briefly swoon over the cover art, as I’m not typically a fan of poetry. There have been a couple of recent exceptions, so a while later I requested a copy and I’m so glad I did; it’s the best thing I’ve read this year. Abrams & Chronicle published it alongside Róisín’s Being in Your Body: A Journal for Self-Love and Body Positivity, both illustrated by Monica Ramos and designed by Diane Shaw.
If you’re like me, and often quick to dismiss poetry as a result of terrible required reading at school, please be reassured that there is some fucking awesome modern poetry available. Poetry which is relatable, empowering, and life-changing. Róisín is so perceptive and eloquent – I want to devour everything she’s ever written.
I’m a feminist, but I’m a white feminist, and I’m very aware of the privilege which comes with that. This year I’ve been on something of a mission to educate myself about other experiences and stories, and this poetry collection has certainly left a mark.
Róisín is an Australian-Canadian living in Brooklyn, and a lot of her writing explores the theme of identity and intersectionality – she’s a queer Muslim, she’s a woman of colour, and she’s a survivor. She’s also a pop culture fiend, casually dropping references to Heathers, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter in amongst verses dealing with abortion, Islamophobia, and abuse.
From ‘time means everything’ (No therapy for him, years of body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, feelings of disgust, self-loathing, tears and hysteria every time I see a goddam fucking child that could’ve been ours) to ‘je ne suis pas folle’ (why is it that as women we have to validate our stories? / even to other women, or against other women’s petition / against us?), Róisín focuses on the female experience, or, more specifically the brown girl experience, dedicating ‘two of swords’ to ‘my brown girls who never felt they had representation‘.
‘mothers’ is particularly powerful (when i look in the mirror, sometimes i see them, looking back, eyes droopy, weary from the weight of womanhood, tired of the throes of masculinity, patriarchy, white supremacy, they mourn it too. Mourn the cruelties of the system that diminished them into an outline, an idea.) but the most eye-opening were the likes of ‘on being an immigrant’, where she talks about her father, who was detained post-9/11, and ‘how to cure a ghost ii’, a reflection on modern Muslim life (1.5 billion Muslims in this world and yet some of you / know not one Muslim. / or at least not one that wants to be one.).
Róisín’s poems are often heart-breaking, and something of a wake-up call, from ‘the many descriptions of being brown’ (When they see you and not a human. When they see not you, but a stereotype, made up… by a white person.) to ‘the night of the cactus’ (The greatest scam is colonization. The greatest scam is us believing that you’re better than us, when you stole all that we were and sold it back, convincing us of our inferiority, spitting on our graves.). She seeks to re-educate throughout, such as in ‘what 9/11 did to us’ – 2,976 Americans died that day. Since the war on terror, 48,644 Afghans have died, 1,699,000 Iraqis, and 35,000 Pakistanis (and still counting).
‘1971’ was a much-needed history lesson, ruminating on the year where the Pakistani army invaded Bangladesh, committing genocide of three million Bangladeshis. And 400,000 women were raped (they were not known and never will be known … remember us, like you’d remember white death). And ‘we go on, sisters, we go on’, dedicated to Jyoti Pandey Singh, who was gang-raped on a bus by six men on 16 December 2012 (i’m tired for all the women we’ve lost. for all the trans women of color murdered. the aboriginal women slain, but no, but no, but no, but nobody remembers them.).
But there’s hope too. In ‘under the golden hour, Róisín writes: i am better now. i gave birth to myself, a new beginning, a robust cycle. i rewrote the scriptures of my mother’s pasts, and her mother’s pasts. i am in the throes of survival, i am lived. i am living. it’s astonishing.
How to Cure a Ghost explores a young woman’s journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance, and deserves to be as widely read as possible. I’m 50+ books into my Goodreads Challenge this year and this is easily the best thing I’ve read so far.
And that’s not all – there’s a journal too!
In Being in Your Body, Róisín asks: “what would life be like without the negativity that surrounds our bodies?” Good question! But how do we go about combating that negativity? By unlearning negative messaging and practicing self-love.
In this truly stunning guided journal, Róisín addresses ableism, thin privilege, fatphobia, white privilege, and more, using empowering quotes and prompts to encourage you to appreciate the changes your body has gone through, explore beauty standards and ideals, reinforce self-confidence, and, ultimately, become the best version of yourself.
Her hope is that “the more honest we are with our bodies and our own limitations, the more accepting we become of difference.”
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a revolutionary act.”
What’s your book of the year (so far)?