In a poem published in The Margins, J. Mae Barizo writes: “And if there was no country […] there would be no memory, neither an others or one’s own.” Come hear three lyric poets whose new books grapple with the cost and value of remembering a place: Hala Alyan, Zeina Hashem Beck, and Barizo, whose poems describe the psychic weight of cities like Beirut and Palestine, Detroit and Saint Petersburg, Berlin and Brooklyn. Moderated by artist and writer Youmna Chlala, an Associate Professor at Pratt Institute whose work has been exhibited at Performa, Art in General, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
A poet of love and war, Hala Alyan is the author of three books where private eros often finds itself saturated with a more political past. The poems in her first book, Atrium (Three Rooms Press 2012), an Arab American Book Award winner, “go after the sensual, to find the erotics in displacement, in memory, in the new land” (Ilya Kaminsky). Her second book, Four Cities (Black Lawrence Press 2015), explores global spaces like Gaza, Ramallah, Haifa, Beirut, Tripoli, Baghdad, Detroit, Paris, and Brooklyn. As she writes in a poem called Push:
“Rome. When I think of my future self she is walking your piazza wearing something yellow.”
“Gaza. I’m sorry.”
“Damascus. Nothing is as dangerous as an unlit match. You taught us that.”
“Beirut. I bruise as easily as you do.”
“Istanbul. Marry me.”
“Gaza. I’m sorry.”
The Palestinian American poet/psychologist’s forthcoming book Hijra (Southern Illinois University Press August 2016), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and explores the pain of what is left behind by migration and diaspora, such as the narrator’s father’s lost aunts in Gaza or her Syrian grandmother.
Zeina Hashem Beck dedicated her first poetry collection–Backwaters Prize-winning To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014)–to the city of Beirut, the home of Arab Modernism often called the Paris of the Middle East. A paradoxical site of leisure and proxy wars, Beck’s Beirut manifests itself as a city of garbage and nightclubs, a city of women smoking cigarettes and a carb bomb’s explosion. As she writes: “We carry cities, instead of angels, on our shoulders, we trail them behind us like old hurts.” A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Hashem Beck “also imagines Beirut’s past trauma’s alongside recent developments in the Middle East: the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, and, of course, 9/11” (New Orleans Review). When Split This Rock! included the book on its list of recommended poetry books, John Hennessey wrote: “Zeina Hashem Beck crafts a multifaceted portrait of the people and the streets of Beirut. Part love-letter, part elegy, Hashem Beck’s debut collection keeps the city from becoming ‘a shadow of a memory,/ the memory of a shadow.’”
Toronto-born Filipina poet J. Mae Barizo’s new book The Cumulus Effect (Four Way Books) takes its name for the constantly transforming path of clouds: migrating climate as a metaphor for geography, desire, and memory. The book weaves together personal memories and sites like a neoclassical palace in Saint Petersburg, Berlin’s Senefeilder Platz, and New York into delicate memory palaces. As Jean Valentine writes: “The Cumulus Effect haunts, surprises, and fascinates the reader; as if looking at shape-shifting clouds, always in transition, we watch how the poet’s mind travels.” A Jerome Foundation and Poets House Fellow, Barizo is critic whose work appears in Bookforum, Boston Review, and LARB. As a musician, she has performed with The National, Bon Iver, Mark Morris Dance Group, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Kanye West. Check out her book trailer here.
Co-sponsored by Alwan for the Arts & the Radius of Arab American Writers.
Open to the public!
Suggested donation $5
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