Pratyusha & Alycia Pirmohamed
(Guillemot Press, 2021); hbk, £10
‘We are memory under memory, frozen in sedimentary layer, overflowing the rest. (…) that unfurling requires a care, a corridor entered with slow luminosity.’
Second Memory, a collaborative creative non-fiction pamphlet written by Pratyusha and Alycia Pirmohamed, guides you through this luminous corridor on a journey that not only traces their ancestral histories but also invites you to peer into their stories, and see yourself in them. Pratyusha is an Indo-Swiss writer based in London who writes poetry, prose and reviews. Her latest pamphlet, Bulbul Calling was published in 2020. Alycia Pirmohamed is a Canadian-born poet also based in the UK. She is the author of the chapbooks Hinge and Faces that Fled the Wind. She is also a co-editor of They Rise Like A Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets. This is the first time the two poets have collaborated.
Trying to define the chapbook’s genre will not do it justice. It skillfully combines elements of prose-poetry, personal reflections and creative essays. It doesn’t follow any strict linear structure. Instead, you are part of someone’s memories, and you follow multiple conversations that weave seamlessly together. Several people are quoted along the way, including Nisha Ramayya, Donna Haraway, Bhanu Kapil, etc., but they are not external to the flow of the writing; instead, they are part of the conversation. The two authors share that, having similar outlooks on life and being able to understand each other on a deeper level allowed their collaboration to turn into this smooth dialogical interplay. Throughout the work they always acknowledge each other’s thoughts and write in response to them. At the same time, the non-linear structure, allows you to take bits from here and there and mix them up while still keeping the general flow: ‘Isn’t it strange that we can taste the currents of times past?’
From the moment you open the hardback blue cover of this chapbook, you are met with a sense of longing to be part of their conversation that seems to slip effortlessly between genres. To embrace the fluidity of their voices, and to dive into the shadowy dreams and memories. To feel the love on your ‘tongue like the lychee’s stone’ and to taste the ‘river and its current’.
Beautiful imagery underpins the whole work. Water is a prominent symbol that flows from the first page all the way to the acknowledgments, from ‘the river and its currents’ through ‘the great sea of deliberation’ to that sea of loneliness which closes over you, ‘leaving hair adrift’. The collection is evocative, and mindful of history and the ways that it can both connect and separate people. The work also meditates upon the intimacy of memory, and the way moving through landscapes can trigger us into remembering.
What does it mean to remember? The authors remind us that learning to ‘translate the past’ means deciphering yourself, and without doing that, you can never truly ‘love with clarity’. You cannot embrace your life without acknowledging ‘the ancestor who plaits (your) hair with her journey’. The chapbook tells us that our past is our roots, and without them, we are simply left with ghosts.
Second Memory is one of those unique works that nestles into your spirit as if there was always this empty space for them to come and fill. It has a little something for everyone, and will leave you with a smile on your face, warmth in your soul, and joy in your heart while you ponder upon memory and non-memory, savouring all ‘the other rains that touched’ your body.