Why I Chose Registers of Illuminated Villages for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


In the Notes section of Tarfia Faizullah’s second collection, Registers of Illuminated Villages, out in March from Graywolf Press, she writes that epigraph for the title poem wouldn’t exist without a 2002 episode of Frontline, with Kanan Makiya, in which he described a large book,

with a cover made of paper, with great big white flowers against a red background… which records the destruction of 397 Kurdish villages… You look at the book and you know you’re touching evil somehow.

But while the register Makiya describes is filled with the records of destroyed villages, Faizullah’s villages are illuminated, both in the sense of being lit and of being decorated in such a way that the reader is given greater understanding of that which they are reading about.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your copy of Registers of Illuminated Villages, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Tarfia Faizullah, you’ll need to to subscribe by January 20!

The villages that Faizullah illuminates are often more personal. They include the death of her sister, an eating disorder, sexual desire, and a complicated relationship with faith and belief. She takes us to Sohagpur Village in Bangladesh and the back seat of a cab in San Francisco, the West Texas of her childhood and the sacrifice of a goat during Eid ul Adha. No matter the setting, Faizullah’s language crackles with energy and precision.

Consider these lines from “Djinn In Need of a Bitch”:

But what does that have to do with writhing
hips, tug of earlobe, the shock of new lips? I need,
I need
, and the craving inside of me isn’t

for food, and I can’t ignore feeling
I’ve never belonged anywhere,
not this city or that village

not in childhood’s cradle, not this adult bed
I slide into alone after crying out
your name, O, Allah. Tell me why being

your disciple is so lonely, why this man
turns to no one beside him, tries
to embrace her. Tell me why the dead

are mirages stepping lightly across
the floors of strangers, their children
asleep below.

Just in this passage, Faizullah takes us from physical desire and craving to desire to belong to a place or to a faith to a desire to understand afterlife and its relation to us as intimates or strangers. And that’s just within this passage—we’ve already been on a trek before we even got to this place. And that’s something she does throughout the collection.

I hope you’ll join us in February as we read and discuss Registers of Illuminated Villages first together, and then with Tarfia Faizullah in our exclusive online chat. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by January 20 to make sure you don’t miss out!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →