In two poems, Hafsah Aneela Bashir has encouraged us to not be innocent about the ideas of this book.
Hafsah Aneela Bashar’s The Celox and The Clot automatically intrigues with an unusual title.
A British Pakistani writer, performance poet and playwright, her themes first appears as wide-ranging as her artistic abilities.
By leaving The Celox and The Clot open to much room for interpretation, she can attract a wide range of readers to enjoy the universal and later personal themes of her poetry.
However, her debut collection has an openness but also centres the poems around the idea of the body. A note on the cover photography interestingly reads:
“When we’re injured, blood clots are life-savers, preventing us from losing too much blood. However, when blood clots from unnecessarily inside blood vessels, they can be deadly.”
In fact, Celox is a man-made blood clotting product. Hafsah Aneela Bashir shows how something seemingly benign or well-intentioned, can hurt if out of balance.
On further inspection, Bashir applies this to personal, local and global levels.
While admiring the charming illustrations, DESIblitz takes a closer look at the poems and key themes in Hafsah Aneela Bashir’s The Celox and The Clot.
A Clear Introduction
Split into three parts, The Celox and The Clot has a bookending introduction and outro.
Such a structure is a benefit with its broad themes. The two poems of the introduction give enough of an insight into Bashar’s concerns to persuade newcomers to read on.
‘Cumin Seeds’ quickly captures the imagination, particularly for South Asians. There’s the familiarity of “Rubicon cartons stacked like dominoes” and “pictures of turbaned men and korma on each spice box”.
Bashir suddenly transports readers back to the same youthfulness of this poem’s persona. The “gol gappeh […] like yellow bubbles/too high for me to reach”, then present the same problem for us too.
Nevertheless, as we smile at childhood memories, the mood turns. When grabbing at bangles like sweets, the persona learns “for the first time how easily the skin cuts and bleeds”.
This loss of innocence, presumably by a girl, has a number of associations such as menstruation or violence against women. Regardless, we know to steel ourselves for the same powerful imagery from Bashar and the same strong feelings.
Considering the tone of the second poem, this is important as Bashar continues to challenge and plays with contrasts.
‘Drone’ highlights one of the recurrent themes of war in The Celox and The Clot and with great effect.
A moving scene of “soft feet in the night” reveals itself as a child’s “snug body” seeking motherly comfort. It’s touching as both parent and child find this comfort and warmth in each other.
What seems to be an equally endearing fragility, is the “tiny” child’s hand looking “like a new species of starfish”. Yet, reality spoils this as a “low hum” demonstrates the danger for the defenceless human body.
As the ‘Drone’ of the title hits, the mother’s promise to “anchor” her child’s “fears” are useless as the “Celox to help [the child] clot”.
Instead, Bashir’s use of first-person narration and speech leaves us with “the screams” of the mother in our ears and the painful image of “starfish […] sunk to the seabed”.
In two poems, Hafsah Aneela Bashir has encouraged us to not be innocent about the ideas of this book. Moreover, she convinces us with her writing talent to read on and discover other her interpretations of “celox” and “clot”.
Whereas childhood innocent has been firmly lost, we still see the other perspective of the mother.
‘Mother’s Nature’ is a truly beautiful poem for all readers.
Throughout the collection, Bashir consistently demonstrates her ability for crafting images or memories that readers may have never experienced or remember.
This first poem of ‘Part 1’ begins with the “silence” of conception and the unique experience of pregnancy. The child becomes the persona’s “everything”, as she is its “time” in return.
Though, Hafsah Aneela Bashir smartly takes moments to turn away from the profound to a list of pregnancy cravings.
A “bleary-eyed” dad discovers at 2 am the difference between “vinegared chippy chips, not French fries” for the persona. Earning a giggle, the more colloquial language tempers more obscure descriptions of childbirth “when the pillars threatened to give way”.
Bashir adds more layers to the tone of the poem as the sibilance is reminiscent of a lullaby. Indeed, groupings of three like “crawling to walking to running” to further contribute to a child-like musicality.
As the persona marvels at her child “unfurling” and eventually going into a young girl, the quirks of parenthood continue.
We appreciate the fond exploration of how time passes; the daughter “asking millions of questions and the pride of “when you started to answer them yourself/teaching me what I struggled to catch up.”
Thanks to Bashir, it’s hard not to already feel invested as the daughter experiences heartbreak. Yet there’s the reassuring full cycle return to mother and daughter embracing.
“Still our silences spoke when our skin touched” and “voices sang softly from an ancient ribcage”, highlight the unbreakable connection of family as something bodily.
‘Mother’s Nature’ is a pleasure to read while smartly serving a purpose. This portrait of family influences our journey through Hasfah Aneela Bashir’s following poems.
The Price of War
In spite of its opening, Hafsah Aneela Bashir wrong-foots us with the remaining first part.
We experience the horrors of war of a sister finally discovering an unclaimed body and tenderly performing burial rites. Moving on, there’s the euphemistic description of ‘Racers’ seeing people attempting to run from “barrel/bombs” with “olive branches gripped/like batons”.
Nevertheless, the poet doesn’t refrain from acknowledging the true chaos of such an event. ‘Racers’ depicts the frantic motion of the victims as the lines dart about on the page.
Similarly, ‘Tap On The Roof’ uses close visual techniques to convey the sudden urgency as families find themselves with little time to escape a bomb.
The latter contrasts chaos and an inevitability of death with a relentless countdown.
Bashir repeats lines like “58 seconds to run” three times as it moves from “48 seconds to run”, “38 seconds to run” in a manner that panics even the reader.
Still, the aim of both is to explore the fragility of family and the body.
‘Racers’ focuses on anonymous individuals. The attention on their clothes ripping away, after which “fire from the rooftops/sparks at their heels, flames/in their hair”, all emphasise the vulnerability of the human body.
Whereas, ‘Tap On The Roof’ intersperses its unstoppable countdown with details of families. It recounts their “panic” including “Hana frantically searches the yard” as “wheels of a little bike spin to a halt” as well as “Muhammed, Ibrahim, Salim, Suleiman, Musa, Hamdi […] laughing” as they watch the penalties during a football match.
Ultimately, familial bonds of names – “Suha Abu Sada” – or terms like “Husband Mahmud” are meaningless as Bashar reaches “1”.
In short, Hafsah Aneela Bashir successfully demands the reader’s attention on a very difficult subject. Most of all, she refuses to sugarcoat for our comfort.
A Necessary Approach
Hafsah Aneela Bashir is perhaps more graphic than some poets in her descriptions.
‘Tap On The Roof’ finishes with “a small head amongst the garden, “just legs dangle from a mangled bike, bloodied football shirts lying amongst the rubble”.
Elsewhere, we hear an innocent child’s voice in ‘I Will Tell God Everything’. Here, the young persona repeats this title and continues:
“That Mama’s face was gone/but I found Baba’s feet/and put them together like shoes.”
It’s arguable that some readers may find this detail excessive. Yet, it forces us to examine the unbelievable disregard for human life and bodies.
There is not enough celox to bring families back together and even blown off limbs and appendages are “put together like shoes” by their children.
Bashir’s refusal to soften the blow makes The Celox and The Clot very impactful. Words and numbers can often sanitise the bloodshed of war, while Bashir uses them to full effect here.
In fact, she doesn’t simply use them to highlight issues of countries further east. Instead, she continues to interrogate the effect of words.
Becoming More Political
Previous to this second part of the collection, Hafsah Aneela Bashir contrasts humanity of family and physical connections against the unfeeling onslaught of violent war.
Her unflinching examination of global conflict signals the importance of not turning away from such realities.
Furthermore, for those in the Western world who distance themselves, Bashir highlights how the nuances of how violence also exists in these ‘more civilised’ societies.
Opening with ‘There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia’, Bashir unmasks the hypocrisy of an increasingly growing strand of racism in British society.
The persona gloats to the reader: “You should have seen how I took her down,/pulled that towel right off her head in town.”
Alongside an unnerving sing-song rhyme, he continues “She was screaming as I spat in her face./These rag-heads taking over all our space.”
This jaunty attitude suggests how little attention such events merit in the news, even as they start to become more violent with murders and bombing of Muslims.
Here, Hafsah Aneela Bashir makes a compelling argument for the power of language in masking the true extent of the situation. The poem reflects actual conversations through the repeated chant of “There’s no such thing as Islamophobia!” in the face of stanzas on hate crimes.
Peppered in the conversational tone, the poem continues with references to “Charlie Hebdo”. Next appears insults like “camel-shagging Paki” as “freedom of speech give me the choice/so I sing at the top of my voice”.
Rather than witnessing the reality of others, Bashir asks British audiences to now consider their own.
The poet has identified all the typical rhetoric excusing violence against Muslims so the persona can comfortably claim “‘Self-starter’ racist I am, not a terrorist” or “we’re patriotic, us not extreme/We’re just trying to keep Britain clean”.
In the spirit of recognising how today’s society works, Hafsah Aneela Bashir also features the unapologetic racism of social media statuses and moves onto overly-sensationalised newspaper headlines.
A slight humour emerges at moments. Bashir clearly is unafraid of explicitly calling out those who harmfully perpetuate stereotypes, for instance, the headline of “Daily Express – Hogwash, now the PC brigade bans piggy banks in case they offend Muslims.”
However, this denigration of the Muslim community loses any amusement thanks to the barrage of ignorance,
The poem gradually peters off to the unthinking repetition of “Muslim” until the sad last note of “There’s no such thing as Islamophobia…”.
Through this unflinching examination of the West, Hafsah Aneela Bashir presents a cohesive collection on repeated themes like violence. She encourages us to recognise the cruelty of violence in both globally and locally.
Most interestingly, she brings the net even closer to home. The Celox and The Clot confidently approaches her other ideas on violence, taking a personal perspective to interest and engage.
The Global and Individual Struggle of Women
‘Part II’ goes on to discuss the similar struggles in other communities as a bridge for her more personal concerns. ‘I Can’t Breathe’ references police killings of Black Americans to great effect.
In fact, Bashir is carefully to bring an element of hope among the bleakness. There’s the encouragement to “demand to change what your demise must inspire” and the promise that “change is coming”.
However, ’Cuts Of The Cloth’ draws attention to the necessity of bringing change for all women, not just mother’s. This poem questions the Western fixation with Islamic coverings and its equal patriarchal structures.
It addresses recognisable themes such as the body and the ““hypocrisy” of Western supremacy as they provoke global conflict. But, it neatly segues for the longer and sometimes more ambiguously linked final and third part.
From a more ode-like poem, ‘To You’, there’s the longing over how the “bed still smells” like a departed lover. Subsequently, Hafsah Aneela Bashir conjures the recognisable fears of women walking alone at night in ‘The Argument’.
Under the “moonlight”, a man’s demand that the persona “speak” to him understandably creates a threat. Bashir adds just the right touch of the fantastical to a reality for many women as he grows vampiric “fangs”.
One by one, the poems tell the various tales of women. Some capture snapshots of feeling like a “prized possession” via their body or desperately seeking “a teaspoon” of physical affection.
The poet still doesn’t refrain from topics like violence against women like the gruesome murder of ‘Strangeways’. All these poems have uniting elements of the body like the man’s blood rising in anger and he “pulls her suspenders around her throat”.
Some of this can be difficult to read. Although upon reading the final poem of this part and the outro, they most clearly suggest why Bashir has written such a tough collection.
Poems With A Purpose
The Celox and The Clot has moments of levity but the final poem of the final part, ‘Songs of Protest’ applies to the book as a whole. As per Bashir’s talent for imagery, there are powerful scenes of women singing together regardless of identity.
“The old ones with the new ones […] the Pakistani ones with the British ones” – this seems to imply any “meanings” given to women’s bodies do not matter, for example, those of national identity. Whether they are experiencing violence in foreign wars or personal abuse, their suffering is unjust.
Essentially, it seems that the poet has intelligently threaded the physical and emotional suffering of women around the world throughout the collection. This all serves to bolster her final argument on the need to overcome any differences and change this themselves.
The single poem of the outro, ‘Brown Bodies’ neatly brings together the importance of ending the cycle of “violence, inequality, predation, […] patriarchy” “ by all men of power”. In a clever contrast to its introduction, women should no longer passively have things done to them.
Women can find balance by enjoying experiences like being a mother, a sister, a wife. But when women’s bodies are often oppressively defined like this, becoming commodities to marry off or then casualties of war, women need to reclaim them.
Here, Bashir uses her aptitude for imagery with the memorable image of a woman putting her body together to “gather the bones of my spine and stand tall”. This undoubtedly inspires women, regardless of the form of violence and oppression in their lives, to do the same and demand “my life is my own”.
Hafsah Aneela Bashir has written a challenging, but worthy read with The Celox and The Clot.
To some degree, there isn’t a simple answer to the issues in this debut collection. At times, it can be a relentless read to feel so helpless in the face of real-life problems.
Nevertheless, Bashir complementary to her poetic talents of intelligent structuring and evocative image, she injects enough optimism to make this a stirring read.
Individuals, particularly women have the power to personally heal the clots of their own lives. Then, even in the face of streams of violence in the world, we have the power to come together as individuals to stem the bleeding.
Finally, The Celox and The Clot itself is an exercise in finding a balance. Through the power of words, Hafsah Aneela Bashir has engagingly shown the importance of action. Therefore this collection is an impressively purposeful debut.