The book begins with a beautiful ghazal. Zeina’s poetry holds a tender power that cuts through to my heart. I have read and written for more than two decades within the Arab culture’s ancient stories of strong women. Between those words and Zeina’s pages I see the falling of light rain through sunlight and feel at home here. With her steady voice, poetry shines, mourns, celebrates, whispers, weeps and calls out her experience of living in the Arab world.
“Stop writing about war,” he said. “Stop
writing about borders and blood.
…Stop writing about bread
and barefoot children with their dark
skin, their hair blond from too much sun.
Stop telling the story about how your friend
bought hats for them and gave them out
from her car window, saying put this on
put this on…”
So I drew him a tree without roots,
a street with enormous wings, and said, “Here
is a tree that cannot be uprooted,
a street that will take flight
before it explodes.”….
Naomi Shihab Nye writes about this book: “I don’t know how Zeina Hashem Beck is able to do this. Her poems feel like whole worlds—potent conversations with the self, the soul, the many landscapes of being…a brilliant, absolutely essential voice.”
There is something about the adhan at dawn, how it lifts
your head from the pillow; how it pulls
you from sleep like a bucket from a dark
well, heavy with the same wish to fall;
How when the sky is still full of shadows, it calls
that prayer is better than sleep
(and there’s something Shakespearean
about it, and something modern);
how the voices rise now
from the different speakers in different mosques…
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, an unsynchronized
Greek chorus that glazes the city, reaches
the gutters, babies in their cots, the thieves….
I appreciate history as glimpsed in poems: Zeina connects the world of Shakespeare, the Greek chorus, of Ithaca and Edith Piaf with the Islamic world. Her telling brings the reader to the shattering of life in Tripoli, Lebanon in the 1980’s when she was a child, Gaza in 2014, and Syria today. Here’s 11th century Córdoba, the love story of Layla and Majnun, and echos of the late-great singer Umm Kulthum.
I’ll close with a list of Zeina’s greatest literary influences from an interview. I share many of these. https://tetheredbyletters.com/author-qa-zeina-hashem-beck/
Charles Baudelaire, T.S. Eliot, Wislawa Szymborska, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, Carolyn Forché, Carol Ann Duffy, Martín Espada, Naomi Shihab Nye, Marilyn Hacker, Ellen Bass, Elizabeth Bishop, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, Mahmoud Darwish, Langston Hughes, Adonis, Badr Shaker Al-Sayyab, Majnoon Layla, and Philip Levine.
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second book, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. Zeina’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize. Her poems have appeared widely in literary magazines, among which are Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality. She is founder of PUNCH, a Dubai-based poetry and open mic collective. She has been featured at literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
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