Published: 11th May 2023
Mona Kareem is a stateless poet, born in Kuwait, whose work has been internationally acclaimed for its power and immediacy ever since she published her first collection at the age of 14. Her writing comes out of the experience of growing up with ‘Bidoon’ status (from ‘bidoon jinsiya’ or ‘without nationality’); an Arab minority denied Kuwaiti citizenship rights, who were categorised as ‘illegal residents’ and stripped of their access to employment, education, social welfare and official documentation a year before her birth.
Her poems are surreal, relying heavily on vivid metaphors, often to bridge the gap between the self and what lies outside the self. They enact a boundless porosity between the body, nature, and the material world. Kareem plays with language to explore the infinite depths of human experience and identity. These poems, with dates, times and places obscured, present us with new maps of precarious, unstable, and permeable geopolitics. Kareem delineates ‘rupture’ as a facet of the migrant’s experience.
“This rupture of time-place-memory-language is a shared art among immigrants, who cannot simply carry on across geography.”
- Mona Kareem in Mapping Exile
The Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series showcases the most exciting living poets from Africa, Asia and Latin America. This collection, translated into English by the poet and translator Sara Elkamel, brings together poems from Kareem’s three collections as well as new, unpublished pieces. It centres on themes that recur frequently in Kareem’s poetry – self-portraiture, exile, estrangement, city life, the journey to womanhood – offering an overview of Kareem’s 20-year poetry career, in English, for the first time.
‘Kareem's searing, irreverent poems, in the original Arabic and Elkamel's translation, observe, criticize, distort. Both simple and complex, they challenge reality and authority. "You can't trust anyone who doesn't like oranges," she writes, and you want to nod in agreement. It was a pleasure to read this book: a serious and playful, intimate and political, surreal and familiar song.’ – Zeina Hashem Beck, author of O and Louder than Hearts
'Mona Kareem writes geographies of exile with teeth, and with a cutting whimsy, that constantly upturns the landscapes around and inside her. Her verse is a tilling of the heart.' – Khairani Barokka, author of Ultimatum Orangutan and Editor of Modern Poetry in Translation
‘Mona Kareem skips and leaps across her poems with the patience of one who believes in the power of silences, of blank spaces, that can liberate perception from the hyperreflex of easy identification. She is not a mirror and does not shatter mirrors. She is a ‘bidoon’, yes. Yet her isness is bidoon bidoon. Her maps will disfigure your nose and embellish your smile. Smell her cartography with your eyes closed. Laugh with her heart.’ – Fady Joudah, author of Tethered to Stars
‘Mona Kareem’s poems wriggle against the constraints of borders and reductive cartographies. Hers is a ruthlessly generous poetry, one which burrows under the skin of various Gulf/s, exposing the subterranean and subjugated, the echoes of dying cities and resurrected histories. In these poems, exile is a purgatory, an interrupted horizon. The migrant and the poet share a body. Boundaries are obliterated and overthrown. Kareem inhabits this state of suspension, inviting us to do the same in our reading and thinking.’ – Momtaza Mehri, author of Bad Diaspora Poems
‘Each poem retraces a memory in the making, its imagination marked by physical objects, trembling reality, characters who are exiled at home, and ghosts in exile. Beautifully translated by Sara Elkamel, Mona Kareem's poetic maps cannot be folded; her geography is one of adjustment, error, and erasure, and her voice is firmly engraved in each line.’ – Iman Mersal, author of The Threshold
‘Exacting and luminous’ – Clare Pollard, author of Ovid’s Heroines and Delphi
Size: 178 x 111mm, 66 pages
Languages: Arabic, English