Questions A Queer Muslim Boy Googles

when I hear half of this country
supports banning Muslim immigrants:
what about those already here?
must I send half my family away?
where will they go? it is reliably reported
the world is on fire & the smoke of it
is beginning to sting, to smother,
to make demons of us.

when I hear the government elected by just enough
wants to determine for everyone who can marry
legitimately: do I have to ask permission to love
myself or only others? who will answer?

when I hear the government elected by just enough
has not asked permission before jailing
refugees who look like me & have names
like mine: how long do I have before
they put me in a camp, too? how long god
will you be there with me
before your ninety nine names become
numbers?

when I hear people measure trauma
by statistics, by corpses, & I am
scared this healthy flesh is dead
inside: when did we stop counting
the spirit? look inside these bodies,
the mathematics of despair is staggering like

I am staggering desire into acceptable
parts, manageable bites. My eyes
are not bigger than my stomach,
I can swallow even men.

when I learn wanting is not prohibited by
god, just fucking men, & only then
if there are four witnesses:
where are my four witnesses?
will they come to my house tonight,
watch me feed men & be fed?

there is enough for all of us.

when I learn god
has borders & my passport is unworthy:
how do I bless my passport? I tried
soaking it in the rain. I let a horse huff
its hot breath on it. I kissed its worn
pages. Ya Allah, it is coded with my finger
print, and will never be holy

no matter how much I wash my hands.
And I never stop washing my hands,
these torn flowers           someday
will bloom again       I tell myself
as I am too afraid     to ask the question.

 

 

New Poems

Hello!

So, I figured it was about time I posted about some of the new poems I have out this year, or will soon have out. For Spanish readers, I have five new poems in Círculo de Poesía, with thanks to Alí Calderon and translator Andrea Rivas.

I’m happy to report that I have three new poems up at Antic, including one of those Spanish-translated poems, ‘Vacation Country’. (Now I just need to find a home in English for the other four!)

I also have two new poems forthcoming in Overland, and one in Island magazine.

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That’s it for now! It’s been a stunning start to 2017 on the poetry front, hope y’all are enjoying it x

City of Literature Poems

Dear friends,

If you follow me on Twitter, you may know this by now, but for those of you who don’t: I have been writing poems–one a week–for the Melbourne City of Literature office over the course of this month and publishing them on their Facebook page. It’s not been easy writing poetry on demand but it’s been an interesting experience, especially as they are specifically place-based poems reflecting my time in this city. As the last of these poems will be published tomorrow, I thought I’d write a post collating them here.

1. Greasy Wings on Swanston St

a day   like a paragraph  can be reread
to glean new meaning. it refuses to set
in this city of horses   of stamping &
stink   the high heat a trenchant
hoof beating slick foreheads in
a slow   religious   drumming.
this city brags bout its grease
but there is nothing   special
to this KFC except the tiny birds
hopping across the floor &
darting into the middled air
there to hang     spastic
with need   a feathered fist
small as a heart & taloned too.
a hollow-boned martyr
drawn in by the reek of family,
the lure of a struggle ending
in a slop bucket, the bird
refuses to set.   like any heart
it fights change, wants no more
than to stay exactly where it is
a perfect present dripping
with ghosts shiny as a teen
dimpled cheek. it’s OK,
this place with its furious beasts,
its past drenching the lips
of every building & crane.
neither of us can read the other.
i leave   the bird to its battle,
my own heart     echoes.

2. Love on High St

Love     it’s an odd thing
to call real estate, but that hasn’t stopped
this agency selling one-bedroom love for $330,000
and a two-bed two-bath family love
for a cool half million. Love is on
the auction block & I’m not bidding
a dollar. I’ve been priced out of love
into lust, a simile for just enough.
Turn onto High St, rough restaurant city
of pawnbrokers, Greek markets & coin
launderettes, there is something
for everyone     except the lost.
I think about this when I pass
the Night Café, open each morning.
Fronds of old men curl the edges
playing cards & smoking all day.
You know these men as well:
retired workers    sparse on hair
fat on character     fingers ribbed
with old country      callouses,
smoke branching out nostrils into
fruitless bush. They laugh & speak
night’s liquid language     the kind
that keeps you up into a blue dawn
hushed with unknowing   I only see
these old fathers    in the light,
catching stories in silver nets
of arm hair      at night I presume
they let loose what they caught
a day’s work      a labour of love
to brighten the measureless black
hanging over so much real estate.

3. Fridays in the Park (or how to make a boy holy)

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4.

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That’s all four! Hope you’ve enjoyed them xo

New Year, New Book

Dear readers,

2017 has just begun and I’m thrilled to say my debut poetry collection, These Wild Houses, is finally here and it’s introduced by none other than award-winning poet Judith Beveridge.

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It feels like only yesterday I began my Thursday Poems segment on this blog, writing about a different poem I’d read that week, and it wasn’t too long before that when I started to write poetry seriously. Four years, in total. I am terrified about this book, and I’m excited, and I’m relieved all at once. Did I do enough work, is it good enough? Should I have waited another four years, since I already know what I’m writing now is so much better? These thoughts plague me. Then I remember I have a book, a real book with a real publisher, and I’m stunned into a kind of stupid gratitude that renders such thoughts meaningless.

I’m always worried about the quality of my work, I’m always more critical than anyone else is of it, and that’s as it should be. I remember where I came from, the violence, the drugs, the cousins killed on the street, the mates in jail, on ice, broke and broken; I catch up with them as often on the news as I do in real life. I feel always a pervading guilt that I got away, that I managed to survive as intact as I have. I feel always a need to return alongside a need to get even further away. When I think about these things I am left with a childish wonder that I should be so lucky, that books saved me and gave me a voice to speak, that most of my scars are internal, most of my issues easy to hide.

Today, friends, I am going to hold onto that wonder. I want to thank you, all of you who follow me here or on Twitter, for joining me, for supporting me. I don’t know where I’d be without the online community I’ve found, especially as my struggles with family have only deepened. What joy, what luck, to have your love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a copy here. If not, I look forward to seeing you around, regardless. Happy new year y’all 🙂

Love,
Omar

Upcoming Events

Hey all,

Just thought I’d give a quick run-down of events you can find me at this month. The Digital Writer’s Festival has begun, and all you need in order to participate is an internet connection. I have two events you can watch from home:

Art and the Suburbs
November 9, 7.30pm

Chatting with Jessica Alice and Dan Thorpe.

The Editor/Writer Relationship
November 10, 3pm

Chatting with Alice Grundy, Elizabeth Tan, and Caitlin Maling.

November 11

If IRL performance and readings is more your style, you can catch me at the Small Press Network’s 10th birthday party, with a host of other excellent performers.

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After that, I’ll be helping to launch the Contemporary Australian Poetry anthology! 10 years in the making. 200 poets. 500 poems, including one of mine.

November 26

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The launch will be at The Performance Space in The Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale St, on November 26th, 3.30pm. Come along!

If you’re not in Melbourne but would like to read/listen to my latest poem, you can do so here. It’s called ghosting the ghetto.

Love,
Omar

Manuscript Assessment

Hello, new readers and old. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Omar Sakr (it’s plastered all over this joint, so this should be obvious, to be honest). I am a bisexual Arab poet from Sydney, and I’m officially offering my skills for hire.

Here are some of the successes I’ve clawed out of the world already: my poetry has been published or is forthcoming in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Poems 2016, Contemporary Australian Poetry, Island, Red Room Company, Strange Horizons, Overland, Meanjin, Going Down Swinging, Cordite Poetry Review, Tincture Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Twisted Moon, and Carve Magazine, among others.

I have been shortlisted for the Story Wine Prize (2014), the Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets (2014), the ACU Poetry Prize (2015), and the Fair Australia Prize (2016). This year, I also placed runner-up in the Judith Wright Poetry Prize (2015) with my poem ‘Not so Wild’. I’m incredibly blessed to say that some of my poems have been translated into Arabic and published in the pan Arab newspaper Alaraby Al-Jadeed by acclaimed international poet Najwan Darwish. Earlier this year, I co-edited an issue of Cordite Poetry Review with award-winning writer Fiona Wright, and I’m currently the Poetry Editor of the Lifted Brow.

On the non-fiction front, I’ve been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Saturday Paper, Archer, Going Down Swinging, Junkee, Kill Your Darlings, and SBS Comedy, among others. My debut full-length poetry collection, These Wild Houses, is due out early next year (2017) through Cordite Books. Sadly, there’s little to no money involved in publishing poetry, even books of it, so I can’t rely on it to support me. The crazy thing about being successful as an emerging poet, or indeed a published poet at any stage of their career, is that it doesn’t translate to having an income. It is a success that becomes measured in cultural capital, which would be nice, if I weren’t so worried about being able to pay the rent.

I moved from Sydney to Melbourne a few months ago because I knew I couldn’t keep it up. I wanted to find work that I didn’t loathe, and doing that, I thought, would be easier in Melbourne because the rent would be cheaper. I was right about that, the rent is cheaper by a factor of a few hundred dollars per month, which is awesome, but I haven’t found work yet. It’s proven a lot more difficult to get than I expected (as an experienced professional with two degrees), and I’ve been looking now for months. I don’t think editing manuscripts or essays or whatever it may be will become my main income and I’m not looking for it do that, but what it might do is help alleviate some of the pressure.

Ongoing work is the best way out of this loop of anxiety I find myself in, and so I’d like to direct all those interested in helping out to do so by making use of me. If you or a friend have a manuscript of any length which needs proofreading or editing, please get in touch here. To any and all who have contributed, who employ me, or share my work: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Love,
Omar

National Young Writers Festival: Events

Hey all,

If you weren’t aware already, I’ll be at the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle this year. I have a few events I’ll be speaking at, so rather than harp on social media about them, I figured I’d just put them here in a nice handy place.

Late night Reading: The Minotaur Under My Bed
Thursday 29 September, 10:30pm – 12am
The Royal Exchange Hotel

with Chloe Reeson, Vince Ruston, Sommer Tothill

Go West Panel: Finding Voice
Friday 30 September, 5:30 – 6:30pm
Vinyl Cafe

with Eiman AlUbudy, Alia Gabres

Australian Poetry Presents: Poetically Pushing Against Dominant Narratives
Saturday, 1 October, 1.30-2.30pm
Vinyl Cafe

with Ellen van Neerven, Adolfo Aranjuez, Mikaila Hanman-Siegersma, Jonno Revanche, Chi Tran

Where You From? Where You Goin?
Saturday, 1 October, 4.30pm-6pm
The Gun Club

with Eiman AlUbudy, Magan Magan, Omar Musa, Admas Tewodros

And that’s it! Come say hi if you’re around.

Publication!

Hey y’all,

I realise I’ve said this on most other social media platforms now, but I haven’t announced it here yet, and announcements like this never get old (for me), so here it is: I’m incredibly happy to report that my debut poetry collection, these wild houses, will be published next year by Cordite Publishing.

Cordite, while a small press here in Australia, is well known for putting out beautiful books of poetry and I can personally attest to the brilliance of managing editor, Kent MacCarter, so I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with him on my collection.

All of which is to say, sorry if I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front, but you can rejoice at least that I haven’t been wasting my time. I can’t wait to put this book out into the world, and hear your reactions to it.

I hope, too, that you’ll continue to follow me on the strange meandering path that is poetry.

~ Omar

Poetry & Performance

Here’s how it went down.

I’m sitting at a table, drink in hand. You, young white guy, sit down next to me to talk to a mutual friend. You tell us you’re going to read tonight at the open mic. I think back to the last open mic I attended, when an old, old white woman (mid 70s at least) got up to read a long erotic poem about her clit. I think about the old, old white man (60s I’d say), who got up after her, zeroed in on where she sat, and read a long erotic poem about his throbbing cock. I tell the others this is why I don’t go to open mic nights anymore. Writing this now, I remember a different young white guy who got up after the elderly duo (a private school kid still in his uniform, tie askew, accompanied by his dad) and gave a frenzied performance remarkable for its incoherence and the repetition of the word rape. His thrusting motions.

I read that night too.

You, young white guy, laugh good-naturedly at this, tell us you’ve been doing this for a while. You have a notebook but you haven’t looked at it, and you seem remarkably calm. You tell me this is just a hobby, not something you’re invested in. You tell me you got addicted to the adrenaline rush, but you don’t feel it anymore. You want to be a journalist. Still, you put your name down on the list, to read for two minutes. Something bothered me about this, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve never heard anyone say that before, and it seems almost magical to me. You mean you don’t have to claw your way through a thorn-field of fear to get to the stage? You mean you don’t have chains around your mouth you need to unwind, link by clanking link, before you can speak?

I leave after the featured poets end, say goodbye to my friends, before the open mic begins.

At home I see poet Danez Smith post a link to a podcast, I click on it, listen in. I’m about to give up when I hear Paul Tran begin to speak. Here’s what he had to say, verbatim, from around the 22.5 minute mark.

…I think often times when I’ve seen people perform poems, there is an embodiment and vulnerability, a space that closes between the writer and the speaker of the poem. But I also feel like, some folks, for different ability reasons, or different relationships to audiences and being seen, like – I know folks who can’t go to poetry because if they were to write their stories and the people of their lives found them, they would die, right? And so, to never do an actual reading, actually keeps these poets alive. To write under a pseudonym keeps these poets alive, right.

And I think of war refugees who flee political conflicts, to see their face in a space, would endanger them, so they don’t actually have the opportunity for performance, right, and they have to find ways of expressing that same embodiment, that same vulnerability on the page, or on Tumblr, you know, wherever, that still protects them, right.

I’m including this in its entirety because a) I transcribe for a living and it’s ingrained habit and b) shortly after hearing this, I went to bed. Then I got up the next day, went about my business, and ended up spitting out a mangled version of it on Twitter. Which, let’s be real, is what Twitter was designed to do. I spat it out because you, young cocky white guy, were still under my skin. I think about how difficult it is for me to speak in public about my sexuality and my faith–recurring subjects of my poems, my prayers–how, even now, I still hear my mother’s words, ‘I’d break your legs if you turned out gay’ and my aunty, who went further and said she’d hang me. I can never unhear them.

And I still remember the day my older brother shouted ‘fuck you’ at my mum, how he turned and ran out the house, screen door banging behind him. How my mum turned to my older cousin and ordered him to bring him back. How my older cousin, with sad resignation, loped after my brother. How my brother came slouching back, shadowed by my cousin, a haunted look in his eyes. How my mother closed the space between them in a second, screaming, and beat at my brother. How he screamed, my aunty screamed, we all screamed, bodies colliding in the living room as if made of metal and magnetised to violence. I remember too, the sirens chasing the screams. The cop cars, the ambulance, the white neighbours watching from their fresh cut lawns, mouths agape.

Every act of violence, every bruise, every threat & scream echoes my present.

That was a long ass time ago, though, and it’s rare for those echoes to take on the fullness of the current. But even as faded memories, they still pack a punch, and I still don’t go out to gay bars & clubs, for fear of being seen. I still only perform my queerness in my writing, or online. Removed from my body, but still so important for it to stay functioning, these small recorded breaths. I realise I’ve gotten sidetracked, but listen, young guy, you’re not to blame for my pain or my shackles, my struggle to speak, or all the many times I refuse to get up. But you are occupying a limited space and limited time where so many who struggle to be seen and heard on a daily basis might have a chance to do so. And you’re telling me you don’t even care? That this is meaningless to you, or just a rush at best?

Meanwhile, what I said on Twitter is that, as a baseline, that’s messed up. You should give a shit about what you’re saying. Not that it needs to be an emotional rollercoaster, but that you need to at least care about what you’re delivering. And if you care, you’re going to be a bit nervous. Now I’m going to give way to Paul again, because, once more, he said it better:

I think what I am more interested in is these myths about the detached poet from their work, which creates the environment for these boring readings, or unemotional readings, as if sentimentalism is a bad thing or magic is a bad thing. So I think it’s both a training issue and a sensibility issue, where it’s like–one of my mentors, Laura Brown (*), always told me, it is a gift when you share your poem to strangers or even to people you love, and each time it’s a different gift. It’s a gift because you’re asking yourself to access that place where the poem is born, not the words, but like the magic of the poem is born, and to give that to someone who may not have wanted to hear your poem today, expected to hear your poem today, whatever, and so I think if, if that was in the tool kit for poets, if that was in the job description for poets, I would be so much more hyped for poetry. And like different kinds of poetry, but right now, it’s not the thing, so.

(*Not sure if I heard that name right)

To be clear, young man, I don’t care that you’re white or that this is a hobby for you. You could be the most privileged man on the planet, but so long as you cared about what you were going to share with me, I’d listen to it. Now I’m not going to tell y’all that only poets of colour, or broken poets with broken pasts like mine should be able to talk in these spaces, or that when you do speak, it needs to be meaningful and heavy–I’m saying when you speak at all, it is meaningful. It’s meaningful whether you want it to be or not because a room full of people are listening. And if you’re going to get up there just for the sake of being there and not give a shit about that, I’m going to walk away. And for the rest of you, if you deliver some wack words you care about, but which are racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, I’m going to walk too.

I am certain there are people who will disagree with me about aspects or perhaps all of this, and that’s cool too. I’m not telling y’all to read different things, I’m not telling organisers to change how they’re running these events, I’m just telling you what I value, and why it is, more often than not, you’re only going to see my back as I turn and leave.

Not So Wild

So, a few weeks ago I found out my poem ‘Not So Wild’ was awarded runner-up place in the prestigious Judith Wright Poetry Prize, as hosted by Overland Journal. I thought I’d mentioned it here already, but it turns out I haven’t. Happily, it’s just come online, so I can link you to it now.

From the judges’ report, Toby Fitch has this to say about it:

Easily the best narrative realist poem in the competition (a category that dominated the prize entries), Omar Sakr’sNot So Wild’ is a nostalgic narrative ‘crackling with storming boyhood’. When the narrator and his wilder childhood friend become ‘lost’, it conjures pictures of lichen-etched sandstone boulders, of gums and brambles clogging a slope, young boys flitting between dappled shadows, jumping from rock to rock. But the poem offers deeper observations still, and, in breathtaking fashion, on families and small-town/suburban relations.

My heartfelt thanks go to the judges, Toby Fitch and Peter Minter, for their consideration, and to the Malcolm Robertson Foundation for funding this initiative which so generously supports emerging poets.

You can read my poem here.