cover image Instructions Within

Instructions Within

Ashraf Fayadh, trans. from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, with Mona Zaki and Jonathan Wright. The Operating System (SPD, dist.), $28 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-0-9860505-7-2

Already entangled in international controversy, this first collection by Palestinian poet Fayadh has come to represent more than the poems it contains. In 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death for apostasy under Saudi law—partially for this book. His sentence has since been lessened, but the world, and the literary community, has come to associate the poet and his poetry with the right to freedom of expression. Unsurprisingly, many poems coalesce around themes of exile and disillusionment. “And I left the homeland,” Fayadh writes, “returning again and again/ but this exhausted home is too packed now/ for a heart-turned hotel.” Readers cannot ignore the circumstances of Fayadh’s life, especially since the pages of this dual-language English-Arabic edition flow in what English readers would consider reverse order. In contrast to the heft of his themes, Fayadh writes aphoristically, with punchy truths and tongue-in-cheek cleverness belying the transgressive nature of his writing. “The prophets have gone into retirement/ so don’t expect one to come and save you,” he writes in both jest and lament. Though the book has many poignant moments, it’s the context—the difficulties of publishing, the gravity of the poet’s situation—that heralds Fayadh as a champion of brutal, honest poetry. (Nov.)