Book Review
Executive Editor Cutter Streeby

A Review of
Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover from Tunisia
by Arturo Desimone


Title:             Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover from Tunisia
Author:.         Arturo Desimone
Editor:          Tendai Rinos Mwanaka
Drawings:.     Arturo Desimone
Distributor:.  African Books Collective
ISBN:.              978-1-77906-487-5
EAN:.              978177064875



About the writer
Arturo Desimone is an Aruban-Argentinean writer and visual artist. He was born and raised on the island Aruba. His articles, poetry, and fiction pieces previously appeared in BerfroisNueva York Poetry ReviewThe Drunken Boat,  Anomaly, and in the poetry collection Mare Nostrum/Costa Nostra (which appeared with the Bristol-based publisher Hesterglock  in 2019) He has collaborated as a translator on the book Land of Mild Light, a translation of poems by Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, released by Arrowsmith Press during the pandemic. The book under review here has also appeared in a bilingual edition in Argentina last year, as La Amada de Túnez.

Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover from Tunisia by Arturo Desimone is a collection of 38 poems and 15 illustrations which records the progress of the itinerant author through the exotic environment of Tunisia and examines his attempts to interpret his unique set of relationships and experiences there and to integrate his many conflicting impressions into a coherent whole. At the time of collection, six titles from the table of contents had been previously published in other journals or anthologies, (including The New Orleans Review, Mercurius, Revista Excéntrica, and Nueva York Poetry.)

Generally, the work is organized thematically around aspects of the beloved Tunisienne with frequent digressions that respond to hypnotic or startling elements of local color. These themes and digressions are punctuated with the author’s own illustrations.

Aesthetic Qualities of the Poems
The aesthetic qualities of the poems are influenced in large measure by the impulse of the journalist to create accurate and readable reportage, as poems that develop the adventure of the itinerant, of course, must be. These also display the genuineness and unstudied charm of all folk art. Particularly, the language of the poems moves unpredictably between registers from colloquial or conversational to formal or even academic, perhaps enacting the moral and emotional confusion of the “I” of the pieces.

Stanzas often, even frequently, represent a single unit of thought and their lines are parsed most often by phrase.

This technique produces a rough, discordant music and irregular, often strained rhythms, which also help to reinforce and fortify thematic tensions across the selections.

 (In Binzereth, Tunisia)

There are flowers in the field that are rare
and their stems curve, to emulate mimetic
like artists, the waves
over the end of the field
where there is sea.
Some loose horses graze in the field,
their hind legs muscular
and similar in colour
as the people in Binzereth,
as the hair of the women: brown
golden, gorgon hair.

The air is wet, full of lightning-serpent.

Through a forked tree
a boy gazes

at a girl facing a horse,
with the end of the field
horizon at its back.

A woman in purple hijab
holds her daughter by the hand,
violet sleeved,
walking, grazing by the hour
of lights after sundown.

Looking from the window
I lose all faith in another world.


Aesthetic Qualities of the Illustrations
The illustrations included in the book are raw, unfinished, expressionistic gestures such as might be expected of the quick studies and spontaneous sketch work of an unsettled traveler. The energetic busy-ness of line and shape which these images exhibit and the evocative clutter of suggestive iconography within them amplify and punctuate important themes and particular incidents recounted in the poems.

These images also serve to enact the rough charm of the work as a whole.

Among the images, much significance is given to the female form which symbolically supports and enacts the several thematic premises collectively as “change,” thereby helping to further support and unify Desimone’s collection as a whole.

Emotional qualities
Across the work, we watch the “I” of the pieces alter over time—his reactions, priorities, and motivations change– as a direct result of his physio-spiritual relationship with the “she” of the pieces within the framework of the exotic place they inhabit. The poem’s “I” persona navigates from discovery and self-discovery to disorientation, from anticipation to frustration, from loss to a kind of disconnection that results in the enthusiastic embrace of many elements, including political elements, of the exotic local color of Tunisia and of course, its corollary posture, the rather tart, and perhaps permanent, rejection of his own familiar Judeo-Christian heritage.

Other poets will find it profoundly instructive to examine in detail this collection Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover from Tunisia by Arturo Desimone to discover how poems of itinerancy or journals-in-verse might best be conceived, executed, and presented to an audience.


About the Reviewer:
Cutter Streeby  earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with Honors at University of California, Riverside; a Master of Arts in English Literature from Kings’ College, London, UK; and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from University of East Anglia, in Norwich, Norfolk, UK. He is the Executive Editor at O:JA&L, the CEO of Grayling Agency™, Director of Marketing at Tupelo Press, Growth Marketer at Grok Stream, and an entrepreneur.