Poetry News

We Are Mere Productions of Power: On Maged Zaher

By Harriet Staff

Maged Zaher

We're not jumping out the window today, despite our troublesome inbox. Thanks much to Fazeela Jiwa, who wrote a great review of Maged Zaher's Thank You for the Window Office (Ugly Duckling Presse 2012) for Lemon Hound. An excerpt:

In Zaher’s poems, everything is a commodity: love “collapses/ Under the mercy of production” (51) and political action is reduced to “people with good hair/ Lenin, Subcommandante Marcos, Chavez” (51) while “justice [remains] a simple data point” (45). The people of this bleak world live lives contoured by systems of consumption and structures of power. Zaher’s narrator characterizes most people as stupid (“These are the masses/ They buy the stuff the leaders create”) or fake (“You are on display 100% of the time/ Change your shape according to the law”), either oblivious to or benefitting from the exploitation around them (15; 30).

Zaher begins from the belief that “we are mere productions of power,” and does not exempt his narrator, or anyone else, from complicity in maintaining the problems he describes (4). Despite stating, “I saw the great minds of my generation working/ For Microsoft and Boeing to be laid off later/ Like dogs,” (15) he elsewhere confesses that he partakes in firing decisions while nonchalantly composing poems over Chinese take-out (55). Every page of Thank you for the Window Office features contradictions that illustrate myriad power hierarchies that incorporate everyone and everything.

Living with contradictions is inevitable in a system that exploits the majority to reward the minority. These poems steep in the unforgiving processes of capitalism that birth such paradoxes as “The city looked okay from the window/ But if you clicked on the zoom button/ You would find a homeless man/ Who is totally forgotten/ …and asks someone about aesthetics” (54). The common state of living with these kinds of contradictions is easier to acknowledge than individual complicity with the structures that create the condition; Thank You for the Window Office rests squarely in this space of discomfort.

Even the poetry itself becomes problematic within these ensnaring structures. If the narrator had any faith in his poetry’s ability to describe complicity in exploitative systems without participating in them, that hope diminishes over the course of the poem’s self-analysis: in the beginning, “This poem is struggling hard” (12), but soon, “This poem can be assumed to be hetero-normative” (26), and eventually, “This poem is not working” (72). Attempting to follow prevailing themes throughout the book leaves the reader with a despairing sense of the “gap” that is variously mentioned throughout the text (24). This “gap” is an unsettling incongruity between ideals and reality. Each idea presented in Zaher’s text seems attractively complete, until he deconstructs it with sarcasm. He insists “the text is more profound before it is written” (17), and “imagination always kicks reality’s ass” (13). In these ways, Zaher emphasizes “gaps” in both his form and content, contradicting a straightforward reading by instead evoking a sense of profound discord.

Read the full review here. Also, check out this nice roundup of Zaher's previous work, talks, readings, books. Screenshot from this video of Zaher reading in Seattle.

Originally Published: September 27th, 2013