Poetry News

Special Issue of American Book Review Focuses on Arab-American Literature

By Harriet Staff


We'd highly recommend this special issue, just out, of American Book Review, edited by Philip Metres, with a focus on Arab-American literature. Among a truckful of good reads are reviews by Dale Smith on Farid Matuk's This Isa Nice Neighborhood, Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky on Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah's Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me; and Joseph Harrington on Khaled Mattawa's Tocqueville.

In his introduction, Metres writes:

I did not solicit reviews on particular books or authors; instead, I let the writers choose what they felt was best. What they chose were among the most celebrated recent works, though many others could also have been included. This is a moment of remarkable and unprecedented literary production among Arab Americans, and this focus could not be timelier; this selection amply demonstrates the breadth and diversity of Arab-American literature. . . .

A bit of lovely writing from Smith's review of Farid Matuk's This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machine Editions 2010):

"The plain language of money" indeed shapes the concerns of the book, with a "plain" though richly evocative language that registers with the kind of alert and culturally perceptive ear established by Edward Dorn's early lyric writing. No other poet I can think of in recent years so self-consciously adheres to that shock of lyric address, rehearsing subjective states at once self-critical and patiently steadfast amidst the violent upheaval of contemporary global culture.

Subjective positions are performed throughout the poems in brief lyrical narratives that are often beautifully harrowing. Like Dorn, Matuk's moral inquiries are often unsettling and require the stamina of ongoing self-reflection in the process of reading. Along these lines, Matuk's stakes are announced fairly early in the book, where he writes, "there / is no world there is / a world if / you stand at all / you stand against it." Such a stance of incongruence rhetorically orients perspectives by establishing multi-layered relationships of identity and by comparing subjective experience to objective realities. In his evaluations of cultural phenomena (including class, race, gender, and transnational identity), Matuk wryly develops perspectives of incongruity to put forth competing orientations or worldviews that are detonated against a larger construction of "whiteness." The metaphor of "whiteness" supposes a corrupt world based on histories of failed but often individually desirable transactions, and the poems are calibrated to assess relations of global dominance next to more fragile, local experiences. Dallas, Texas is reproduced as a locale of safe, domestic wagers, where "bank account[s] / keep...growing slow" and "the dog is safe, healthy." While this Texas of slow growth provides social stability in a decaying empire, Matuk delicately pursues identity distinctions playfully and seamlessly to transcend the limited determinations of geographic placement.

PDFs of each article are totally accessible here.