John Kinsella Reviews The Lost Arabs

Over on the blog he shares with his wife Tracy Ryan, award-winning poet John Kinsella published this stunning review of my book that I feel compelled to share here, it is so generous and moving:

Omar Sakr’s new volume of poetry The Lost Arabs is a remarkable and essential work. In a disenfranchised and dislocated country of flesh and spirit, Omar Sakr shows us ways to reclaim, how to hear and maybe hear beyond the ‘barking angels’, the brutality of dispossession and familial disconnection. But he also offers us various routes through to family, to articulations of justice, to the deepest empathies which come out of stress and loss, and into places where we have to recognise and acknowledge the trauma of communities whose intactness is under constant pressure, and often violent assault. He shows alienation as an imposition of power structures, and he speaks from edges where he knows his own fate and all our fates are determined by conflict over other people’s spaces. He writes: ‘Like any land I have been fought over with some claiming to love me/ more than others, some who are of me and some who are invaders, new comers.’

What ‘tonally’ highlights in Sakr’s poetry, is an empathy in irony — the control over his fraught yet beautiful language to show horror and defy the inflictors of that horror with an understanding of the complexity of the journeys that come before us and that are part of who we are. And, equally, there’s also irony in empathy — privilege makes the ability to mourn and to ‘protect’ more viable but more hollow, and privilege is always contested in these pages. The ‘American Spring’ is the grim counterpoint to the western construct of the ‘Arab Spring’, and the frozen sensibilities, the defamiliarised empathies which substitute a western-colonial consumer hope for another, are laid bare.  If ‘forgetting has a survival value’, Omar Sakr can hear this, but he won’t survive it fully, and in not surviving it fully shows us that unless we let language make necessary change there can be no survival at all, that language will be lost. Also, in this singing of language reforming under stress and offering ways through to an understanding, there is the beauty of ‘aloneness’ which never diminishes community and its myriad intensities and complexities.

This is not an easy journey on which to accompany this remarkable poet, but join him and see how anger can bring compassion, and how compassion can show why there is anger. The Lost Arabs offers ways not only into Omar Sakr’s personal poetics and psyche, but into a polyphonous sense of community and communities.

John Kinsella

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