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

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

Thursday Poem: Personal by Tony Hoagland

This week’s poem is ‘Personal’ by Tony Hoagland, an award-winning American poet. I enjoyed this poem greatly when I read it a few days ago, but I had yet to decide between it and another of his poems (I always try to read more than one when I come across a poet I’ve not read before), and it wasn’t until this morning I settled on it.

This morning is important because of the recent decision in America of a grand jury to not indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death. It follows another decision just days ago to not indict the police officer who killed Mike Brown. And on. And on. The names are endless. The dominant narrative from entrenched powers, from the media and the government, is always this: don’t take it personally.

It’s not about you. It’s not about race/privilege/sexuality/gender. It’s not about the thing that it’s about. It’s just a thing that happened, regrettable, sure. But just a thing. Remove yourself from this narrative, distance yourself from the picture, sterilise your emotion, look at it as a camera lens looks at life – without humanity. The horrible thing is that this is a narrative we often internalise.

I keep telling myself not to read the news. Not to pay attention to what’s happening in Gaza. Not to take in too many of the stories in which people like me are attacked for who we are, for what we look like, for whom we love, and for no other reason. It hurts too much. I sink into the quagmire; I get stuck; I drown. I feel so much like I’m suffocating, like the world is spinning off its axis, like I’m screaming and no one can hear, or worse – that they can but are ignoring it.

It’s hard to ignore a story when it’s a life you’re living. Just three days ago I landed back home in Sydney, and for the first time, was taken through to a secondary Customs inspection area. An officer asked me dozens of questions, went through my phone, my laptop, my bags. It was the most thorough and most invasive procedure I’ve gone through to date, and it happened here at home. In the country I was born and raised in, the one place I didn’t expect it. The officer asked for evidence that I was a writer, as I’d said. I showed him some of the articles I’ve written for SBS Comedy.

He asked me to go back, ‘what was that one, it said Islamophobia?’ He’d seen an article I’d written called ‘Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism’, a piece in which I argued that Muslims and Jews over the past decade have been seen a dramatic upsurge in discrimination, and how odd it was that we didn’t bond over this, that a lot of it came from outside groups, from places in which we’re considered outsiders no matter whether we were born there. The article included a picture of myself and my Jewish housemate, one of my closest friends, holding up a sign saying ‘Arabs and Jews Refuse to be Enemies.’

Did it matter? Did he care? No. He’ll still pull aside the next Arab to walk through the airport, Australian citizen or not. In fact, the only other group of people in this secondary Customs area were an Arab family, two women in hijabs and their children, who ran about giggling, as yet blissfully unaware of the burden their skin carries. My point is this: I try not to take it personally. I do. It just never works. It never works and this piece by Tony Hoagland is a lovely, musical little poem which explores this idea — albeit from a slightly different angle. Today of all days, it resonates so strongly I am surprised I’m not shaking where I sit, and this is why it is this week’s choice.

Go ahead and check it out here.