Lyric Reviews The Paper Camera by Youmna Chlala

THE PAPER CAMERA opens with the voice of someone reporting from the end of the world, giving the text the tone of a dispatch. 

“A young girl / sticks her tongue / out at a gun—” Disparate moments press together in memory, over the breadth of space, anchored by architectural details such as a window, and by landscape markers, like lemon trees, connected by the tanks rolling by. The tongue, and therefore language, becomes a weapon.

Many of the poems of THE PAPER CAMERA meditate on the bleedthrough of Lebanon’s civil war, its historicity distilled into little moments through the subtle shift from peeling figs to taking care to stay away from glass when walking through the house— “stay center, move through hallways / far from the possibility of air, strike—” the domestic becomes an extension of the warzone. Moments of desire are so small and simultaneously have weight equal to intrusive moments of geopolitical conflict: “my neck hurts when I kiss you for too long in the front seat / waiting for a wave through a checkpoint.” The narrator’s life continues beyond these moments, too, into the present tense of Beirut’s scaffolding and cranes, global airports, cities of exile and bewildering life, “In a constant state of intermission, the artist takes photos of her body as if she knows it will soon go.”

Chlala is also an artist, whose work has been shown all over the world, from New York to Dubai, and further. The poems of THE PAPER CAMERA engage with images, primarily stills from her super 8 film project “Notes for Leaving and Arriving.” This is pollination, this is translation in bloom— the film is translated into photograph, the city is translated into film, into photograph, into text, into language. The city is in Arabic, the city is in French. The city is Beirut, the city is Paris. The writing is drawing, the drawing is dancing, and the dancing is translation. This equation, as presented in the final poem, is the essence of the physics of memory, of the mechanics of the camera: “→speed + instantaneous = no place.”

Questions of memory, of nostalgia, of colonialism, of space, of languages— Arabic, French, and English— they take shape around the rhythm of the missing. However, the missing take up space regardless, making it impossible to look away, as in the staccato lines of “Heartbeat (for FO’H).” The missing, whether exiled, redacted, missing in action, extraordinarily rendered, or lost in translation, are the poetry, too. 

In this time of the ending of some things, the birth of other things, and the struggle to hold on to memory, and the simultaneous struggle to let it go. In other words, in the new life of the idea of the city, let THE PAPER CAMERA accompany you.


The Paper Camera By Youmna Chlala Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933959351
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Litmus Press - December 15th, 2019

Article Type Terms: