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Spent a morning reading this and was very glad I discovered hala's poetry and the journeys her voice take, from aleppo, to beruit, to Texas and Oklahoma and brooklyn. Through her poems , we hear her ruminations on life as a Arab woman and how she copes as such in many places. Sometimes, she fractures language and images and the leave jarring effects, but the stories she tell are worth listening to. Get it.
What a touching and captivating book of poems. The poems capture so many emotions and moments in time, many of which I found myself reflected in. I really enjoy Hala Alyan’s writing and recommend her book, Salt Houses, as well.
much of the story gets lost or left behind in relocating from place to place. we only remember what we experience, or as children when we listen to the experiences of adults, second hand memories. from her poem 1999:
I forgot the za’atar my mother said she fed me in Iraq. I forgot my grandmother’s house in Soo-ree-yaa.
other forms of erasure found in the poem Aleppo: The Syria in my grandmother is a decade too old. When she dies, she will take it with her.
… a lone bomb can erase a lineage: the nicknames for your mother, the ghost stories, the only song that put your child to sleep. … Your citadel fed to the birds.
the cultivation of a sense of belonging in a stable environment, physical and psychological is lost, when one has a history of leaving and arriving in new cities in new countries, the poems that follow disparate moments, stranded in transit like possessions tossed.
a finding of solidarity in dispossession from her poem Oklahoma:
‘… This was before the gold rush, the greed of engines, before white men pressing against brown women, nailing crosses by the river, before the slow songs of cotton plantations, the hymns toward God, the murdered dangling like earrings.’
although atrocities mentioned are against brown women in her litany, it’s clear she’s also including the historical suffering of black women, making use of intersectionality in her poems. her sense of being made to feel inferior as brown woman among white men and white women appears in several poems.
there are poems about kleptomania and sex and too much drinking. poems about a child returning from school or a vacation in another new city, and poems about marriage, struggle to portray what normalcy must look like. some of these poems don’t make sense, they hold together as an experiment in free association around a theme, leaving the reader lost and confused. an autobiography told in fragments. and, yet, everything is familiar to us, the religions, histories and personal stories. confusing and familiar.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 15, 2019
This powerful book of poems reads almost as a memoir, dealing with growing up, straddling different cultures, and trying to come to terms with society as a whole. Alyan succeeds in weaving jarring snapshots of trauma with haunting, and often hopeful, poetry.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 9, 2019
This poet has the subtle gift of combining everyday words into mystery. For example, "All the exit routes: someone else's jeep, the bottle of pills, your daddy's DNA." She has either lived or imagined living a lot of interesting things in interesting places--although some things are mundane events she makes interesting. Along these poetic paths she cycles through themes of exile and resettlement, of religious confusion, of Middle Eastern wars and Israeli settlements, of substance and sexual abuse, and of course hoving over everything, questions of identity.
One section of the book is devoted to the poet's failed marriage (which apparently went poorly from the start) and lesbian encounters. There is little narrative here; instead, in the manner that's perfect for expression through poetry, the various themes that have dominated her life pop up in different combinations and permutations. Mercifully, the book ends with acceptance, a new relationship with a lover and with herself.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 19, 2019
A powerful collection of poetry by a Palestinian-American poet as she reflects on a year in her life. The poems highlight the theme of displacement, not just of being of Palestinian descent, but being a woman, being a lover and a wife, being American. Highly recommended.