Book Review: 'The Scent of my Skin' by Farrah Fray


"Fray writes about topics that unite all women globally"

Cover of The Scent of My Skin, Selected Poems by Farrah Fray. Art by Muneat Mahfud.

Cover of The Scent of My Skin, Selected Poems by Farrah Fray. Art by Muneat Mahfud.

Art writer Lizzy Vartanian Collier dissects a young woman's experience growing up between Libya and London, documented through poetry.

Born in London to Libyan parents, Farrah Fray was uprooted from her British home and placed inside a Libyan village as a teenager. Despite her ethnicity, having become acclimatized to London life, her relocation from a busy cosmopolitan city to a rural Middle Eastern environment was a difficult transition. Returning to London after high school, Fray has become attuned to the differences in social and cultural traditions between her two homelands. In The Scent of my Skin, her debut collection of poetry, Fray documents her experience as a female living between the two countries.

Divided into five parts: Foot-traffic herbs, Milk, Coffee, Sugar and Footpaths, Fray’s lyrics not only touch on culture and upbringings, but also the things that unite us: most notably love and heartbreak. The text is incredibly sensual, even the title ‘The Scent of my Skin’ carries references to two of the five senses (scent and touch), as well as mirroring the number of senses in the five sections that the prose is divided into. When Fray writes about lust or anguish, the sentiments she conveys are universal to all women. Her poems are incredibly raw and honest, likening secrets from her lover to “graves” in her body and at other times speculating over the identity of the women that have taken her place in the lives of lovers past.

Poems of note are Girl combat London, where Fray asks her reader to teach young women that “…words are a martial art/that can be used to say no/as well as yes…” and Healing, where Fray acknowledges both the strength and the fragility of women. Within the three-verse lyric Fray talks about supporting a fellow female who is crying, while admitting that sometimes it is she who is weeping and who thinks the world is over, finishing by reassuring us that we can all heal. It is uplifting in a gentle, soothing way.

At the beginning of each of the five sections, its title is defined by noun and verb, demonstrating how such small words can carry so many different meanings. Fray includes references to places throughout, from coffee shops in Libya to the Battersea Park Road. The final part, Footpaths, is all about travel. Beginning in an airport, Fray takes us through Libya, Tunisia and Britain. This chapter is all about journeys, both those travelled by distance, and the emotional ones. The words are intense, documenting the loss of a father; it is full of love and heartbreak. Fray is not just acquainted with losing her homes, in a constant battle between the UK and Libya, but she also leaves behind family members and friends. This part also touches on the experiences of refugees as she acknowledges the situation faced by millions of refugees leaving the Middle East in search of a better life.

While at times the text may seem heavy, it is also extremely light. There are a series of poems named after the people who have been Fray’s partners in crime during different points of her life. We are introduced to Karina before meeting Ayah, who was Fray’s best friend at her international school in Libya, and finally we go back south of the river, to Clapham with Marwa.

With titles like Comment section, Women and Boys don’t like us, Fray writes about topics that unite all women globally. She also gives us a little insight into Libya with inklings of distinctly Middle Eastern references through stories packed with orange blossom, sahlab and a warmer climate. The Scent of My Skin straddles London and Libya to delicately explore the female differences and similarities in their attitudes towards relationships, culture and identity.

The Scent of My Skin: From Libya, London and Every World I Live In by Farrah Fray is published by Palewell Press Migrations and is available to purchase on Amazon.

Written by Lizzy Vartanian Collier


Rosie Leggett