This week in Ithaca is the New Voices Literary Festival, and I have the opportunity to be a student guide for the poet Ladan Osman. I like reading poetry because it allows me to fall, comfortably. It puts into words and rhythm feelings and emotions that I identify with, but can’t always so easily articulate. To read a poem is to feel a certain emotional proximity to the speaker of the poem, a proximity that in turn propels me, the reader, to feel closer to myself. Poetry becomes a clarifying and steadying lens that is difficult to gaze away from. Gazing away only seems to glaze my view.
Ladan Osman’s book of poetry, The Kitchen Dweller’s-Testimony, reminds me why I appreciate the poetic lens. Osman’s poems are focused and reach a degree of depth that allows me to feel as though I’m right there beside the poet, grappling. In equal measures heartfelt and vengeful, Osman serves injustices and joys in a kettle of tea flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. I’m thinking of a few lines from her poem “Diviner of Teacups:” “There’s one woman who serves tea to the second wife./ She varies clove and sugar but it’s hard/to guess her meaning as she watches the other woman drink/an amber band across her front teeth from all the good tea.” As the poem continues, it’s “The absence of cardamom or the taste of overused cinnamon” that will leave a bitter aftertaste on the tongue of the reader. This aftertaste is fueled by the reality of racial strife, unequal power dynamics, and dislocation, themes that are continuously present in her writing. Osman’s gift lies in her ability to get to the root of these issues in poems that are sharp, serious, and pointed. But, in doing so, she also manages to show mercy on her readers. In “Situations Wanted,” the speaker of the poem expresses: “Let us be wrists rubbing against each other./ I will pay you with good intentions./ I will be your friend, in the ways mirrors befriend.” This, to me, embodies the ethic of Osman: she is a poet who will not shy away from difficult subjects, and she will display compassion and honesty in doing so.
The festival will be happening this Wednesday, April 20 through Friday, April 22. I have included a link of the schedule and festivities below. If you’re a lover of literature, this will be the place to be.