Iman Mohammed, born 1987, lives in Malmo. She is a poet and translator. She has been published in numerous anthologies and journals throughout the years. Between 2017 and 2019 three of her poetry collections were published: Fermata, Bakom trädet ryggar (Behind the tree backs) and Aureola. Thematically the poetry revolves around memory and violence through different aspects. There is also an interest in the experiment with language and imagery with the inspiration of films and contemporary art.
Iman Mohammed was born in 1987 in Bagdad and grew up in Stockholm, but now lives in Malmö, Sweden’s third biggest city. Mohammed’s first full length poetry collection, Bakom trädet ryggar (Behind the Tree Backs) was published in 2018, to general praise. It dwells upon themes such as memory, childhood, body and heritage, and is characterized by an acute abstraction where different parts of the body seem to have their own agency.
Mohammed has also published two chapbooks: Fermata (Fermata) in 2017 and Aureola (Aureole) in 2019. Together with the poet Jenny Tunedal, she has translated the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan into Swedish.
Star particles set
There are several schools for aspiring writers in Sweden, but two of them stand out from the rest, in terms of status and renown: Biskops-Arnö’s school for Creative Writing and the master programme in Literary Composition at Valand Academy in Gothenburg. Iman Mohammed has been a student at both, a fact that I think can be seen in her poems.
This is not to say that Mohammed’s poetry is overly polished, or in any other way marked by the conformity that literary critics tend to accuse former students of these schools for – but Mohammed doesn’t at all seem like a debutant. Instead, she writes with a secure and serious hand, belonging to a full-fledged author that has put her texts through many turns of seminars and tuition.
Mohammed’s poems first appeared in print 2013, in the anthology Mot denna sol (Towards this Sun). The anthology was one of four – so far, at least – in the project Blå blixt (Blue Flash), where pre-debut poets could send in their poems and get the chance to be chosen for participation.
The poetry suite by Mohammed in Mot denna sol have the title “Krökningar” (Curvatures) and its final words – “You felt a terrible gratefulness towards this sun” – has given the whole anthology its title. The themes in these poems can also be seen in Mohammed’s later work: sexuality as energy and violence, the turn from child to woman, exile and exoticism. The back and ant tree also appear here. What has since changed is the concretion here, as well as the tone, that is not as secure yet. But a reader of Mohammed’s later work will certainly recognize and rejoice in poems like this:
Slice bread in the night.
Above, star particles set.
My feet unsteady on a floor
whose appurtenant building exists outside a globe
which floats in the most infinite of darkness.
You want to discern another side of me.
Pull out a thorn from my flesh in the hope that no blood will braid itself out leaf by leaf on my back.
But now look at how I am bleeding an ocean.
After Mot denna sol, Mohammed’s poems appeared in several other anthologies and magazines. In 2017, the handprinted chap-book Fermata (Fermata) was published the small avantgarde publishing house Chateaux. Only one year later, this suite of poems became the part of a new whole, when Norstedts – one of the biggest and oldest of Sweden’s publishing houses – published Mohammed’s first full-length poetry collection, Bakom trädet ryggar (Behind the Tree Backs). Some poems from Mot denna sol also appear here, in a rewritten form – for example the poem I quoted, which now reads: “Slice bread in the night, star particles set. My feet unsteady on the floor. Existing on a globe that floats in black ocean.”
Sometimes, the poems in Bakom trädet ryggar have line breaks, but more often they take the form of short prose paragraphs. Empty pages can be read as section markers, but there are no titles to divide the content. The main themes are childhood, memory, exile, heritage and body, but the bodily thematic differs from other Swedish poetry collections, where especially the female body is examined and described by a scrutinous eye.
Here, the body is always close to violence and war, but described with a distance and a very high level of abstraction, so that the body parts seem to be fully separated from the human being they belong to, and the life of this person. Different parts of the body are given an agency of their own – especially the back. This abstraction also means that the poems tend to turn their back on reader, in an act of shutting out rather than drawing in.
The same year as her first full length poetry collection was published, Mohammed debuted as a translator of poetry. In collaboration with the poet Jenny Tunedal, Mohammed introduced the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan for Swedish readers by translating her core work In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country (I hjärtat av hjärtat av ett annat land).
In 2019, another chapbook by Mohammed was published: Aureola (Aureole) – and “aureola” also happens to be the very last word in Bakom trädet ryggar. Here, the abstraction is giving way for a suggestively strong first-person point of view, while the earlier themes remain and form yet another solid whole where both the body and the universe are present. With Mohammed’s own words: “a galaxy of fragments”.