Sense Me by Annum Salman

10th Apr 2019

The title of Annum Salman’s debut poetry collection is apt: equal parts a demand for attention and a plea to be understood. It’s our senses that allow us to experience the world and define our place within it, and these are the topics that preoccupy Salman throughout ‘Sense Me’.

Written throughout her teenage and adult years, according to the opening note to reader, the poems in Sense Me by Annum Salman often address weighty topics.

There are tales of family strife, abusive relationships, mental health struggles, sexism and racism. But there are also avowals of strength, of hope and love and Salman’s determination to break free of oppression – whatever form that may take – and carve out a space in a world that is reluctant for her to occupy one.

As you might expect from this subject matter, Salman’s use of language is rich and punchy, with heavy use of metaphor and expressive language. There are also illustrations interspersed through the book, a nice touch which plays into the imagery of the poetry itself.

In many cases, this fulsome approach works well. Pieces such as ‘Anna’, a meditation on feeling herself becoming Anglicised against her will, and the prose poem ‘After the First Time’ – with Annum Salman telling her post-breakup self ‘You’ll be surprised at how much heart you still have left’ – are vivid and emotional. It’s easy to imagine them working even better as spoken word pieces, which is where many of them started life.

At 150 pages and nearly 100 poems, Sense Me doesn’t entirely work as a cohesive collection. While it’s tempting for any author to want to feature as much of their work as possible in a debut, especially given how emotionally honest Salman’s poems are and how much they clearly mean to her, the dense imagery begins to lose its impact through sheer repetition.

The same tropes and analogies crop up in multiple pieces, and the poems aren’t given enough space to breathe. It’s a shame, because had Annum Salman (or her editor) been more judicious in selecting the pieces, perhaps releasing a smaller pamphlet of the strongest works, the individual poems would have shone more brightly and the collection itself would have been more powerful.

While ‘Sense Me’ isn’t a perfect debut, it’s certainly an interesting one, and there are some promising works scattered throughout the book, particularly the more free-flowing prose poems.

I’d be fascinated to see how they work in a live spoken word setting, too, as I suspect this is where many of her pieces truly come alive.

There is a feeling of growth to the book, a sensation that we are watching a writer discovering her voice and learning how to use it proudly. It will be interesting to see how Annum Salman wields it in future.