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

Update

Friends, I know it’s been a little while since I did a Thursday Poem post, and I’m sorry for that–there’ll be one coming up very soon, I assure you. Until that time, I just wanted to share a little interview I recently did with someone I knew in my university days. He has a series of interviews on his blog with a bunch of interesting people I urge you to check out. I certainly enjoyed answering his questions, talking about poetry, writing, and life.

You can check it out here.

Here’s a little snippet for the click-averse:

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

A friend of mine, Najwan Darwish—an incredible Palestinian poet and all-round wonderful man—was apologising for not responding to an email I’d sent, and I was trying to brush it aside. I said something like, “don’t worry about it, it was a minor query.”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “there’s nothing minor in life.” Words which resonated then and still do now. Every so often, I turn them over and find some new meaning there.

a constant state of collapse

[Note: if you follow my blog for poetry posts, you can turn away now. This is personal.]

I have been struggling recently. Those five words are among the hardest to write, to say. Though I have admitted it before, and though this is neither the first or the last time it will happen, it somehow doesn’t get any easier. It’s been an especially weird period in my life, because on the face of it, it hasn’t been all that bad. I have made numerous strides in weaning myself off the soulless corporate tit and transitioning to a life paid for with my words. My writing (which is generally published by other corporations but these at least have some shred of soul, I’d like to think). Professionally, I’ve been doing well. Many poetry publications and a couple of prize shortlists this year is nothing to sneeze at, and I’ve still got work forthcoming in Meanjin, Going Down Swinging, Archer magazine and The Saturday Paper.

Personally, however, things have been pretty bleak and never more so than this week. I found out that my poem didn’t win the ACU Prize; my mother lost her tribunal hearing in regards to her housing so she has to find a new place to live in a few weeks’ time (whilst unemployed); one of my older cousins passed away; and my father is in the hospital. Over the course of the past few weeks, I also haven’t been paid for any of the work I’ve done, both the regular “real world” type and the freelancing writing kind, the strain of which is beginning to tell. The only reason I’m even mentioning the failure to win this prize is because, as everything was disintegrating around me, it gave me a sliver of hope I usually don’t indulge in that I would be able to fix things.

A sliver of hope that I might be able to swoop in and help my mother in a substantial way–not save the day completely, because she has never been a woman in need of saving, but help nonetheless. Everyone needs it at some point. Naturally, I ending up losing that chance, if I ever had it to begin with. Knowing that only two non-white poets have won prizes like these out of the last 120+ in this country means that I approach any shortlist with a mountain of cynicism in tow. Once more, my financial circumstances led me to a place of desperate hope and once more I was disappointed. It’s foolishness, really, allowing myself to fall for the same trap. But this isn’t about money, nor is it even about being able to help my mother, as important as I feel that is…

It’s about the fact that for weeks now I’ve quietly been preparing to tell my family directly about my bisexuality. My friends know, of course, and I’ve been open about it online so if any of my blood should happen to look up my name, it’s there to be seen, but I am tired of waiting now. I was praying the decision would go my mother’s way (as it should have, for long and complicated reasons I won’t go into now) and I was praying for the prize in case it didn’t, even though I am not a man given to prayer.

I was praying because if I didn’t have to worry about my mum’s circumstances, I’d be free to tell her about my sexuality. The only reason I can’t now is because once she knows I expect that she’ll never want to hear from me again, even if I was in a position to help her. She’s just that angry, that stubborn, that proud. Like me.

You might say, well, then it’s not your problem. If she turns her back on you, then it’s her own doing and none of yours. Except it doesn’t really work that way. She’s my mother. I will always love her, no matter her flaws, no matter our fractured and violent history. I have to do right by her even if she isn’t doing so by me. So I’m back to closing my mouth, and keeping the words I desperately need to say inside. Eventually, sometime over the next six weeks, I expect the money I am owed for the various works and writings I have done will trickle in, and I will be in a slightly better position, a position to help her. I will do that, as I am able, and then say my piece. If everything goes to plan, that tie will be cut, that weight lost, and I will finally be at ease.

After visiting my dad in hospital today–an experience worthy of its own post–I went to my great-uncle’s place. His son, 45 years of age, passed away recently. I’d never met my great-uncle or his wife prior to this point, but I walked into their little flat, into their grief, and his face lit up. He said, in broken English, ‘You, your father, same.’ Turning his hand this way and that. ‘Exactly same.’ He, like many of my Turkish relatives, seem unendingly delighted in my features, in the similarity they see there. His wife was much more reserved, she didn’t say anything other than to indicate where I could place the box of oranges. I was there with my own uncles (his nephews) to provide the two with enough boxes of fresh food to feed a village. ‘We have to take care of them,’ my uncle said. ‘If not us, then who, you know? They’re old.’

To give you an indication of the age range here, my uncle is 60, his hair silver to my great-uncle’s snow white. Despite that, he huffed his way up four flights of stairs, carrying boxes of food for the elderly couple. That sense of family, of being there for each other no matter what, nearly broke me tonight. As I was leaving, my great-uncle seized my hand and said, ‘Here, you come anytime. Here. Home. Always home, always welcome. OK?’

I nodded and smiled, wanting so much to give in to the ache of belonging, but unable to do so. That deliriously comfortable notion of home is the reason I haven’t been direct with my family all these years. That is the nature of this struggle — it’s finding the courage to accept being cast-off and finding or building a new home in those who stick by you. I could talk about a whole range of other issues plaguing my life, but I have laid bare the crux of it and already I feel better for it. I do have some income due soon, as mentioned, and some work lined up; my life feels like it’s disintegrating, yes, but it seems always to be in a state of collapse and I have survived it before, I will survive it again; and I am always, always aware of my own privilege in still having a home and food, in being a man–even a brown bisexual one–in relation to the rest of this wracked, broken world. So, even now, even in the midst of this, I find room for gratitude, as I think we always must.

It’s only a permanent impermanent home that I lack, a family I can trust in full.  There are worse things to face, I suppose.

These Laughing Gods

A year on from Robin Williams’ passing, and the hole he left has yet to be filled. Re-posting this tribute because it’s a good time to remind yourself to look out for your friends and loved ones who may be struggling much harder than you realise–and to look out for yourself, as well. If you are depressed, don’t hesitate to seek help. There’s always someone out there who cares, always another reason to draw breath, always a little bit of light glimmering somewhere in the dark.

Scratch That

I think we all fall a little in love with the funny ones.

You know the ones; a smile blooms on your face just by thinking of them. Like your body has bookmarked their joy, and said, look, this is how they make you feel. Store this beauty, store this secret magic, let it line your eyes. You build it up inside with every laugh leaving behind an echo, a residue. This is why sometimes, even when they say something that isn’t particularly funny, you’ll find yourself braying at the moon like a drunk donkey, while others sit with a polite grin frozen on their faces. Didn’t you guys hear that one?

Robin Williams – the outstanding comic and brilliant actor, the man, the husband, the father, the genie – passed away today. This will not surprise you, I am sure; his death has hit the world with a seismic…

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Thursday Poem: Rilke’s “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.”

So, I think by virtue of the fact that I often come across poems on social media and the web, I have (broadly speaking) managed to cover predominantly modern poems by living poets. The dead don’t get much play here, except for the recently departed. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that tends to be my focus anyway: what’s happening now, not so much what happened before. That doesn’t mean I pay no attention to the classics or the past, of course I do – without historical context, you will only be seeing part of the picture – it’s just that with very little time on my hands and a modern aesthetic of my own, framed by the times, I don’t go out of my way to seek out those older works.

This week, Rilke’s poem “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes” was suggested to me, and though it has the feel of a flowery ballad, not at all what I seek out in poetry, it nonetheless grabbed me with its beauty, its effortless language. If you’re not familiar with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, here’s a quick primer: Orpheus was a legendary musician whose lament at his wife’s death (Eurydice) was so moving that Zeus granted him permission to go to Hades to see her again. There, his music once again was so great that it moved a god, and Hades said he would relinquish his claim on Eurydice soul and allow her to return to life. The catch? As she followed Orpheus back to the land of the living, he could not turn back, not even once to see her. If he did, she would be gone forever.

The poem begins (as translated by Stephen Mitchell):

That was the deep uncanny mine of souls.
Like veins of silver ore, they silently
moved through its massive darkness. Blood welled up
among the roots, on its way to the world of men,
and in the dark it looked as hard as stone.
Nothing else was red.

Aside from its immediate sombre atmosphere, there is a lilting scale to the language, a soft near rhyme which propels you along. In the first two stanzas, Rilke effortlessly establishes the underworld as a tangible landscape before even introducing his characters:

In front, the slender man in the blue cloak —
mute, impatient, looking straight ahead.
In large, greedy, unchewed bites his walk
devoured the path; his hands hung at his sides,
tight and heavy, out of the failing folds,
no longer conscious of the delicate lyre
which had grown into his left arm, like a slip
of roses grafted onto an olive tree.

“In large, greedy, unchewed bites/ his walk devoured the path.” Fuck that’s good. It says everything you need to know about Orpheus’ state of mind, his desperation to get out of there so he can turn and see his wife, know for sure she’s even there and that this isn’t some cruel trick played by the gods (which, being notorious dicks, they were known to do).

They had to be behind him, but their steps
were ominously soft. If only he could
turn around, just once (but looking back
would ruin this entire work, so near
completion), then he could not fail to see them,
those other two, who followed him so softly:

I love this little passage, especially the parenthesis – I like to think it’s a little meta note on his part, a reminder to himself that he couldn’t stop now when he was midway through the poem, couldn’t go back to edit or rearrange, he had to push on lest it all be for nought. There’s a lesson in that for all of us. And then came the introduction to Eurydice, a shift to her perspective which is where the heart of the poem lies, the depth of the romanticism as well as the meaning, the exploration of death.

A woman so loved that from one lyre there came
more lament than from all lamenting women;
that a whole world of lament arose, in which
all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
road and village, field and stream and animal;
and that around this lament-world, even as
around the other earth, a sun revolved
and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
heaven, with its own, disfigured stars —:
So greatly was she loved.

“a sun revolved/and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-/heaven, with its own, disfigured stars –“. Now there’s a line worth repeating endlessly. The alliteration, carrying the ‘s’ sound without leaning on it too hard; the stunning image of disfigured stars. This is the kind of Poetry with a capital P that people often think of when the subject is brought up, and with good reason, given how much of it was written over the course of hundreds of years. The grandeur of emotion; the discovery anew of the world and nature through grief. With any kind of mass saturation, what follows the initially successful work which captured the imagination of readers is inevitably weaker.

But now she walked beside the graceful god,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.
She was deep within herself, like a woman heavy
with child, and did not see the man in front
or the path ascending steeply into life.
Deep within herself. Being dead
filled her beyond fulfillment. Like a fruit
suffused with its own mystery and sweetness,
she was filled with her vast death

I love this idea of being deep within yourself, and I think many people, but especially writers, will be familiar with this sense of falling away from the world. Of being rooted in Self, in the inner world whence your feelings and thoughts come, and not wanting to or not being able to leave it. I also love the idea that with death comes fulfillment, its certainty is so great, there is no room for anything else. Too often afterlives are painted in pictures of endless torment or endless pleasure and neither of those things seems to me to be particularly appealing; as human beings, we abhor sameness, and thanks to the gift of consciousness are always aware that everything is changing around us.

The other option tends to be purgatory, which is another kind of punishment. But here, the afterlife begins and ends in death, such is the totality of it – nothing else is needed. Nonetheless a consciousness remains, an awareness and understanding of the state you exist in. It is, in short, like life: when you occupy it, the fullness of it is bursting within you. Things change around you, and you struggle to retain a grasp on the big picture, constantly assaulted not just by the world itself and the advance of time, but also your memories, everything flitting between your grasping fingers. Here, Eurydice is consumed by the state of her existence, unable to grasp what once was but content also in the now. There is a peace in now for all of us, the living and the dead, if only we could learn to live without greedily wrapping it between before and after.

That was my takeaway, anyway – it’s midnight now, and I’m not sure if I’ve conveyed my meaning well enough, but either way I hope I will have convinced you to read this moving poem about life and love and loss, memory and mortality.

Thursday Poems: Dooms of Love Grayed In

You would think that since my day job ended last week, I would have had ample time to find a poem this week, and that I would for once not be tired while I did so, but life is nothing if not a constant nuisance, a child made for the trampling of plans, expectations, hopes and dreams with equal dispassionate ease. Which is to say that I’m only getting to it now, and if that weren’t insult enough, I am not here to showcase one poem but two.

It may be because I was sitting here in my chair nodding off, or because my housemate is playing his guitar and singing in the next room, making it hard to focus on each line, but I found myself drifting in and out of these poems, occasionally caught and tangled again on a beautiful line or sharp thought, and so by the time I was done, I didn’t feel up to reviewing either work – my father moves through dooms of love by E. E. Cummings or Grayed In by Martha Collins – in full. They had meshed in a weird way in my skull, a fact I think would please Collins in particular, with her penchant for presenting simultaneous possibilities in the same moment – things are always about to happen happening happened, falling (still) rising, etc.

Her poem begins:

1

Snow fallen, another going
gone, new come in, open
the door:
                  each night I grow
young, my friends are well
again, my life is all
before me,
                   each morning
I close a door, another door.

That second stanza is electrifying; I sat up in my chair, tried to recover my breath. I love it for its contradiction, growing young with time, but also for its aching delusional optimism — too often I feel just the opposite, that each night marks a closing, not an opening. But it’s true as well that all life is before you all the time, and that is a thought to treasure.

Collins is fond of playing not just with words and spacing but also time, linear constructions, place and self in a kind of breathless cascade down the page. It doesn’t always work for me, personally, although that could be the tiredness talking, but the speed with which she diverges from one stanza to the next can be jarring.

For example, we go from this:

6

down buildings walls houses
schools, no one building only

bombing, months of little in,
now nothing no one out, only

down: bodies arms legs in Gaza

to this next section, with no connecting tissue offered:

7

On this day, this birthday, I wish
myself for the first time (who
would be a child again?) back

at that dining room table with
him, his years of little more less
back,

Everything weaves together in this poem and even if it didn’t capture me a hundred percent of the time, the moments it did were frequently stunning. Her imagery though sparse never fails to conjure a complete and striking picture. At the same time as I was reading through this poem and my housemate was singing and I was thinking I should probably go to bed and leave this for tomorrow, I saw Cummings’ superbly titled poem and dove into it.

It begins:

my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give, 
singing each morning out of each night 
my father moved through depths of height

Typically, I’ve struggled with older, classical poetry. I often find it to be archaic in its formulation, or overly sentimental, etc. This poem, however, is unique in that the language Cummings uses is so singular, the phrases so adroit in pairing juxtaposing concepts or emotions like the titular “dooms of love”, that for once I wasn’t obsessing over the rhyming metre. Many poets twist themselves into knots with rhyme, taking the poem in a direction it doesn’t want to go purely to achieve the desired couplet, but I didn’t notice that here and if I did, wouldn’t care anyway – how could I when joy burgeons out of this poem so strongly?

Yes, it can become a bit much at times, but it’s worth it to move through “griefs of joy” with “wrists of twilight”, “singing desire into being” as “septembering arms of year extend.” That last phrase almost split my skin with delight I grinned so fucking hard. It’s so goddamn perfect. Nothing more need be said to bring that picture to life, and more than that, it’s such an efficient marriage of time and image to take us into the next stage of the poem, of his father’s life.

Both poems tonight are exemplary in their deployment of language, their dissection of time and place and personhood, albeit in different ways; though both most clearly deserve to be looked at on their own, I can’t bring myself to regret the way exhaustion spliced their oddities into one. The overall effect was is will always be beautiful.