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Self-Portrait as Ruth is a provocative collection exploring the subject of Israel-Palestine in sharp, accessible poems that eschew the conventional language or orientation of either Zionist or Palestinian solidarity. Rooted in a Jewish family history that reaches into nineteenth-century Ottoman Palestine, Self-Portrait as Ruth is written in defiance of all ‘official’ versions of Israeli or Palestinian history.
Polemical in places, the densely, painfully political subject matter is humanised throughout by a weaving together of individual and community, family and tribe, lover and self, nation and landscape. These poems are interrogations of the first person possessive – of claims, both singular and plural, to land, to identity, to history, and to the body – and of wounds and victimisation, both unique and collective.
A challenging, aching, honest exploration of culpability, this lament will incite controversy and debate, making uncomfortable reading for partisans and non-partisans alike.
‘Jasmine Donahaye’s existential quest takes many routes that lead to arresting poems, the best of which catch you by the throat.’ —Dannie Abse
‘This book, wrestling with the conflicting perspectives of nationality, displacement and religion, is steeped in Israeli and Palestinian history. Land is portrayed throughout as an untrustworthy burden, full of temporary demarcations, constantly under threat of change. Take the short poem "The Border, 1947": "she stands a moment, one foot still in Palestine, / the other in Lebanon." The book's biographical note tells us that Donahaye's family have roots in 19th-century Palestine, and the writing tries to open longer perspectives. The elegy for the poet's family in "Gaza, summer 2006" attempts to negotiate a sense of place that becomes ever more inclusive ("the crowd chanting shema Yisrael will forget / what it was they were called to mourn, and the muezzin will sing / Allahu") and there are tentative moments of respite celebrated here in pieces such as "Water" or "The bus to Ramallah". But violence and damage are continually asserting themselves, and the collection ends with the forebodings and threats of "An angel is passing": "You hear the jeeps; you feel / the rumble of the tanks' approach."’ —Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian
‘This book, wrestling with the conflicting perspectives of nationality, displacement and religion, is steeped in Israeli and Palestinian history. Land is portrayed throughout as an untrustworthy burden, full of temporary demarcations, constantly under threat of change.’ —Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian
‘Less an expression of diasporic and exilic experience than a meditation on the stark problematics of homecoming… Her poems chill with their fidelity to the unhinging problematics of the cloven map of the world, of language and inner space…. Donahaye, exiled in language, calls us to contemplate a bitter heritage…. At the heart of her poetic world, even in its revelation of beauty, lies an intimation of violence and menace…. This is a poet whose intellectual and questing mind sets all experience in the long and bloodstained view from Pisgah.’ —Stevie Davies, Planet
‘This book is adventurous in its view of boundaries, whether personal or national, as arbitrary appropriations … a debut that launches itself fearlessly into physical experience as a site of danger and discovery.’ —Zoë Skoulding, Poetry Wales
‘The delight is in how Donahaye achieves the near impossible here, creating an erotic bittersweet evocation while reining back from the merely crude or potentially obscene …’ —Kathryn Gray, New Welsh Review
‘Donahaye’s poetry is not for the faint-hearted…. “Sexually frank”…. cannot prepare the reader for her explicit descriptions of birth and post-natal depression…. Misappropriations reads like an autopsy report for modern intimacy. Donahaye’s narrators are forced to consider their status as human beings: physically united by circumstance, they maintain tenuous relationships in the world of words: man and woman, mother and child, Palestinian and Israeli, pressed up against each other in reluctant society.’ —Patrick McFarlane, Poetry Matters
‘[The poems] are rivetingly dramatic, full of vivid scene painting and weighty, fully visualized walk-on characters… Donahaye writes only in packed yet economical free verse, as if in her the Hemingway of the sketches in In Our Time had melded with the concerns and fervor of, say, Sharon Olds.’ —Ray Olson, Booklist