Writing in a refreshingly defiant voice, Yemeni American poet Threa Almontaser offers a razor-sharp interrogation of home, gender and cultural norms in her first collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen. In “Muslim Girl with White Guys, Ending at the Edge of a Ridge,” Almontaser articulates the challenges of living between two cultures: “Neither muscle nor mouth / devoted to one way of speaking. Every language / I borrow from somewhere else.”
While addressing the generational differences and frictions that exist within her extended family, Almontaser reveals herself to be exceptional at playing with shape, manipulating a page’s white space in order to underscore her ideas. (The lines of “Feast, Beginning w/ a Kissed Blade” form the shape of a knife, crafted to conclude on a pinpoint.) Winner of the 2020 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, Almontaser’s daring debut both speaks to and transcends the times.
Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2021 offers a wonderful overview of recent work by beloved, acclaimed poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Spanning 20 years, the volume brings together selections from his previous books and features 12 new poems.
A Louisiana native, Komunyakaa enlivens observations about youth, music, race, love and war with singular, spellbinding imagery. His poems capture the magnitude of everyday moments and the mysteries of the natural world. In “Slingshot”—as “summer rambles into a quiet / quantum of dogwood & gum”—a boy’s experiment with a homemade weapon proves to be transformative. In “Our Side of the Creek,” the poet is attuned to the ominous: “The Jim Crow birds sang / of persimmon & mayhaw / after a 12-gauge shotgun / sounded in the mossy woods.” Komunyakaa, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994, writes majestic yet deeply human poems that make this a collection to savor.
In his innovative and urgent first collection, The Perseverance, British Jamaican poet Raymond Antrobus reflects on finding his place in poetry as a deaf person. In “Echo,” he writes, “Even though I have not heard / the golden decibel of angels, / I have been living in a noiseless / palace where the doorbell is pulsating / light and I am able to answer.”
Themes of misunderstanding and the nature of communication run through Antrobus’ work. “When you tell someone you read lips you / become a mysterious captain,” he says in “I Move Through London Like a Hotep,” which takes its title from a misheard phrase. Throughout the collection, he adopts different forms and registers with the ease of a seasoned writer. His appealing book, which has already received numerous honors, including the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, deserves a wide readership.
Update: April 7, 2022
Headline updated to reflect attribution to Rita Dove.