Much-praised Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck makes this welcome visit by virtual means to read from her newly published third full-length collection, O (Penguin Poets). Writing in Arabic and English, she cuts to the quick here, in form, range, breadth – and breath.
“O is so full of life, of music and passion for life. In ghazals, odes, revolution songs and invocations of O the world comes vividly alive: ‘I carry a name & many cities,’ writes Hashem Beck, as her poems unfold the abundance of our world. Abundance, yes: so much tenderness, so much passion in these pages: just one language can’t contain it all, so the poet gives us ‘Duets,’ joining Arabic and English in the same stanza. The lyricism is a vehicle of emotional impact … Hashem Beck’s prayer isn’t shy of calling for revolution, of asking ‘to occupy the streets, bring the tires, the sofas, the drums, the blaring cars.’ Zeina Hashem Beck’s prayer isn’t afraid of stories, of new music on your balconies. Listen. Her O brims with the world.” —Ilya Kaminsky.
“Western readers often consume books by international authors like perverse anthropologists, scanning for a word or phrase that buttresses their ill-informed preconceptions, cudgeling a writer’s meticulously woven lyric into vapid social generality. Zeina Hashem Beck’s O rebukes this tendency explicitly in an early poem: “I’m tired of metaphors about peace. // I prefer dark chocolate in the morning, / & a good window.” And then throughout the collection, she rebukes it with her truly undeniable poems—rhymes braid across multiple languages, intricate forms fracture under the weight of their subjects. In one unforgettable piece, a subtle incantation ends on the name of a flower that looses itself across the page like so many petals. Unforgettable, undeniable—these are the words I keep coming back to with O. Anyone who reads it in earnest will emerge better made.” —Kaveh Akbar.
Zeina Hashem Beck’s other collections include Louder Than Hearts, To Live in Autumn, and the chapbooks 3arabi Song and There Was and How Much There Was.