Beit El Yasmine Publishing has brought together poems from across the ocean by Caribbean American poet Opal Palmer Adisa and paintings by Egyptian artist Shayma Kamel in a new book What a Woman Is. The poems and the paintings are set side by side, creating together a colourful and poetic world marked with the strength of women.

In the book’s introduction, the collection is described as a conversation between two women from different worlds who ‘connect through ancestry and gender, a chance meeting'. Holding onto her African ancestry, Adisa’s poems focus on women’s plights in Egypt, and all over the world. The poems do not simply mark the difficulties of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but they also celebrate the strength of the women who defy their boundaries and constraints.

The poems are laid out on one page to face a painting by Kamel on the other. The sequence of the poems is rather confusing with titles such as Sitting in a Box, Dilemma: Aunts and Mothers, and Pain Stuffed. However, this confused poetic voice seeks liberation as the poetry moves forward towards freedom of spirit and voice with other more assertive titles such as Finding My Place, She Will Not Fall and She Owns Herself.

The poetry explores issues and imagery related to Egyptian women, and Adisa uses domestic Egyptian imagery like the drink karkadeh for example. She also alludes to Ancient Egyptian goddesses as well and female Caribbean mythological figures.

Kamel's paintings are arranged according to the poems that they fit best. Sometimes, it seems that the poetry is tailored to match Kamel's paintings, which is at times frustrating because it creates a preconceived image of the painted work. Kamel's paintings are beautiful, abstract and at times full of surrealistic elements. Her brush work and choice of colour are unique and full of powerful and emotive statements. Most of the paintings are oil on canvas, some are ink and there are mixed media on wood or canvas.

The book is creative and the balance between each poem and painting is poignant and musical. The poems are not Adisa's best; some of her other collections of poetry are stronger in terms of imagery and lyricism. However, the simple language carries emotions in a smooth, uncluttered pattern.