For my first summer read, I decided to pick up Leila Chatti’s new chapbook Figment (Bull City Press, 2022). At 35 pages it goes by quickly, yet its emotional depth and experimentation make every reread a rewarding experience. The chapbook’s black cover and barely visible, embossed title set up the work’s mystery and coyness early on. Composed of half formally restless lyrics and half terse, associative abecedarian poems, Figment indulges in the mysterious and uses language to confront difficult emotions.
While the poems are withholding about their specific subject, the theme of thwarted motherhood becomes gradually clear in poems like from the root *dheigh-: where the speaker writes: “fictile I formed / you I didn’t know before / I did it what I was / capable of.” As the book progresses, the exploration of language becomes a way to confront this trauma. In the abecedarian poems, this formal constraint takes the poems on a journey of association the speaker uses to gain understanding and acceptance. The rewards of this endeavor, for the reader and speaker alike, are reflections on grief and loss that could only be gleaned through experimentation with this form. For example, the speaker writes: “faint / face less / fabrication / false falter / fault,” ending with “failure familiar.” This phonetic practice illuminates for the reader just how nuanced and bewildering the experience of grief can be and how language may be used to organize its mess.
––Christopher McCormick, Mid-American Review