Invasive Species

Marwa Helal. Nightboat, $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-937658-93-9
Physical, psycho-spiritual, and linguistic displacement form a nexus of poetic lines that course through this restless, memoiristic, and deeply felt debut from Helal. The book opens and closes with sections of short, plainspoken poems and blocks of runaway, breathless, form-shifting prose texts. Meanwhile, the core hinges on an abecedarian mini-memoir of Helal’s family emigration from Egypt to the U.S., and her subsequent travels back and forth as she navigates 912.5 days of a dehumanizing and bureaucratic visa process to remain in “A country that fakes left but passes a hard right.” Much of the collection takes place in cars, airports, waiting rooms; in dreams and songs; and in inventively reworked immigration documents. In this latter form, Helal reverses expectations (and syntax) and deflects the unidirectional flow of state authority with a biting sense of humor that jumps from threat to cartoonish mockery to near despair, her only constant a dead-aim of purpose: “these motherfuckers have a green card lottery while refugee babies wash up drowned at sea.” Drawing on influences as disparate as June Jordan, DJ Khaled, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics, Helal finds in poetry something that goes beyond resistance or balm, and might even approach hope. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2018
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