Wednesday, May 14, 2008

RAWI's Inclined to Speak reading (May 2007)

Pictured above (first row, L-R): Kevin Rashid, Lara Hamza, Marian Haddad, Fady Joudah, Nathalie Handal, Deema Shehabi, Alise Alousi, Pauline Kaldas; (second row, L-R): Philip Metres, Hayan Charara, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran.

About one year ago, RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers) held its biannual conference in Dearborn Michigan, and a number of us who were to appear in the anthology Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry, gathered together to do a group reading. It was a coming-out party for the younger generation of Arab American poetry, with the elders in the audience like Naomi Shihab Nye, D.H. Melhem, and others, greeting us at the start of something new. It was strange, for me, to feel suddenly and immediately at home among fellow poets, who almost by definition are an evasive, solitary bunch. All my defenses against "identity poetry" and "identity politics" ceded to the feeling of solidarity and shared experience, both within and just at the margins of our words. When I heard, early this year, that Fady Joudah had won the Yale Series, I felt none of the requisite envy that usually accompanies such news. It was as if my brother had won.

Booklist, April 1, 2008

Make no assumptions. As with all double-named ethnicities, the designation "Arab American" encompasses people of dramatically diverse backgrounds with stories of family, war, exile, lost languages, cherished traditions, forbidden love, and the art of reinventing home and self. An Arab American is an immigrant or American-born; a Muslim, Christian, or Jew; a human being faced with negative stereotypes, made worse in the wake of 9/11. Poet Charara has gathered 160 clarion poems by 39 Arab American poets (each briskly profiled) to create a potent and synergistic anthology that illuminates the slippery elements of identity. Familiar voices--Naomi Shihab Nye, Jack Marshall, and Lawrence Joseph--combine with poets who though new to most readers will be quickly embraced, so direct, lithesome, and affecting are their poems about the solace of nature and the paradoxes of the human condition. Here are poems of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt, of New York, Detroit, and South Dakota. Born in a Palestinian refugee camp Suheir Hammad reaches for the essence: "you're either with life, or against it. / affirm life."--Donna Seaman

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