Seeking Solace in Soukayna’s WORDS
While picnicking in the lush inner city retreat that is Mont Royal Park, Soukayna hands me a copy of her recently self-published book, WORDS. The book, a cardinal hue with muted white line drawings, contains a collection of writing that addresses themes of home, identity, trauma, and recovery. The first page reads “To every soul who has ever felt alone, or lost themselves in a darkness bigger than the love they carry.” But more than anyone, WORDS was written for Soukayna, the author herself. Still, it’s amazing how a collection of poetry and prose, so deeply personal and intimate, can resonate with you.
The three-part chronology is nuanced in its self-reflection, with moments of radical vulnerability, spiritual introspection and emotional healing. Part one delves into issues of homeland and identity. Soukayna, a Montreal based Moroccan writer, introduces this topic by asking what homeland is to you. As a Palestinian in exile, only ever able to define my home through its absence, Soukayna’s inquisition is something I’ve mulled over for some time. “Home is where the fruits are more flavourful, / Where the intoxicating smell of spices leads you to your grandmother’s kitchen,” she tells us. Imbued with the sweet warm embrace of the bled, Soukayna’s portrayal of home invites us into a rich sensory respite, temporarily satiating our wistful yearning for return. The brevity of her writing doubles as a metaphor for the itinerant dwellings and transient lives of immigrants and diaspora communities. The vibrancy of the images she conjures pulsate with real lived experiences, but the memories and feelings are difficult to locate, often only existing as romanticized versions of homeland. These images and ideas are sometimes experienced vicariously through a shared collective memory that sustains our relationship to home, fitting into the narratives and values that help define our national identity. Soukayna is aware of the volatility in defining home and makes it clear to the reader that your ancestral home can also be a site of suffering and intolerance, where you, an apparent victim of westoxification, are still the outcast. Her wariness of the predicament in reconciling a traditional and an allegedly modern persona can only come from a place of experience. Marred by the ambivalence of defining home, Soukayna attempts to recover and reclaim its meaning, recognizing, discerning and making sense of that in-between state.
Throughout the course of the book, Soukayna’s thoughts and feelings are both actualized and actualizing as part of an ongoing dialogue with herself. This is manifest in her writing, rooted in process rather than resolution. Soukayna’s interchangeably poetic and blunt voices contribute to the back-and-forth process of actualization and recovery. There is something to be said for the directness of her indignant soliloquys. Her bluntness is indicative of the relentless exasperation shared by women of colour: “Maybe it’s because everything is so easily accessible that so many / of us suffer from imposter syndrome/ Where talent takes courage and work, / Mediocrity takes a white skin, and a fetish for pain.” Her matter-of-fact delivery is synonymous to the way in which racism has assumed normality and is often rendered invisible in today’s structures. It has literally become a matter of fact.
G L O W Z I’s accompanying illustrations of people of colour, particularly black women, effectively stress the message of Soukayna’s writing. There is also measure of performance in reading WORDS. Growth and healing are treated as sacred ritual and with every passing page is a small victory, discreet but gratifying in its delivery. G L O W Z I’s continuous line drawings mirror the continuity of growth, a trajectory of pathways coiling in hopes of realizing completion. Altogether, the book develops a kind of linearity, mirroring the ongoing project of “self.” By part three you are able to revel in the joy of redemption. “Ode to Myself,” the finale of this stirring tour de force, is a culmination of the writer’s path to healing and reconciliation, cathartic and empowering in all its glory.
On the seven hour bus ride from Montreal to Toronto, I firmly held onto my copy of WORDS, signed with a heartfelt note by Soukayna. My copy is now fraught with dog-ears, pencil markings, margin notes and slight tea spillage; a testament to its bearing on my life. I don’t usually reread books within a short frame of time, but WORDS has become more like a vademecum for me. I find myself pacing my room and reading it aloud for affirmation, consuming its contents in the hope of relinquishing my obsession with reconciling the supposedly incompatible facets of my identity. WORDS has helped me navigate these feelings of dissonance, and continues to do so. My battle with perennial displacement has also deepened my desire for permanence as I continue to yearn for a home in my ancestral land. Finding a place of refuge can be difficult, but inside this red velvety veneer, if only for a brief moment, I am able to reside in the solace of these words.
WORDS is available for purchase at Indigo Quartier DIX30, Brossard, Quebec. You can also reach out to Soukayna via Instagram for a copy.
Follow Soukayna @lucidcorpse
Follow G L O W Z I @glowzi