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my name on his tongue – Laila Halaby (A Review)

Paperback, 136 pages
Expected publication: May 7th 2012 by Syracuse University Press
Source: Net Galley

Synopsis:

Best-selling novelist and PEN Award winner Halaby presents readers with her first collection of poetry. Intensely personal and marked with a trenchant wit, these poems form a memoir following Halaby’s life as they explore the disorientation of exile, the challenge of navigating two cultures, and the struggle to shape her own creative identity. She shares the pain and confusion of growing up—the need for belonging and the solace of community—with tenderness and fearless candor. Rooted in her Middle Eastern heritage, these poems illuminate the Arab American experience over the last quarter century. Turning away from all that is esoteric and remote in American poetry today, Halaby’s lucid and forthright voice speaks to and for a large audience.

Review:

There are many things that make me cry. Cruelty to animals, elderly and children, Shah Rukh Khan (argh), war, good ice cream going to waste and others. Poetry, usually, is not one of them. While reading my name on his tongue, I was in parts awestruck, in parts jealous and in lots of parts weepy.

Confession: I don’t read a lot of poetry. Contemporary poetry even less The only reason I requested this title from Net Galley was simply because of the title. It intrigued me, piqued my curiousity and made me want to read the poem the verse was found in and I am so, so, so very glad that I took a chance with this. Halaby’s poetry is so exquisitely beautiful that I fear I lack the words to do it justice. More than the words she chooses to express herself in, it is the feelings embroidered in the punctuation, in the pauses, in the slight (written) hitch in breath you get as you read her poetry that marks it as genius.

Perhaps it is because I relate to the displacement that is one of the strongest themes in the book. Perhaps it is because I know what it feels like to be torn between two cultures, perhaps that’s why I teared up and cried as I read her contradictory feelings of grief and anger as she poetically navigates the murky American waters after the 9/11 attacks. Her yearning for home, her anger at the people tearing apart the place she finds her roots in, her voice, her passion – these are all so strong in this slim collection of poetry that you will pause and linger over her verses, read them again, muse over them and keep on thinking about them as you go about doing the mundane things that compose your day.

My favourite poem might be the first one but the one that made me cry was the last one. Do yourselves a favor, even if you do not read poetry usually, read this volume. It may change you in ways that you didn’t think possible.

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