In her English-language debut, acclaimed French-language poet of the Palestinian diaspora Olivia Elias probes deeply into the upheavals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Foreword by Najwan Darwish
CHAOS, CROSSING—translated by award-winning translator Kareem James Abu-Zeid—is a powerful chronicle of uprootedness, of times marked by inequality, injustice, and disconnection. These poems—presented here in a bilingual edition—seek the calm at the center of the storm, the still point amidst the chaos.
"Each of Olivia Elias's powerful poems sparkles with the unexpected: exile puts down roots in time, healing is a Ferris wheel, and loss a slough that leads to language. Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s translations are delicate and wonderful. This book is a joy to read." —Jennifer Croft
"Olivia Elias, child of the Nakba, is a world citizen, resident at one time or another of Lebanon, Canada, France. But as a poet, she remains a Palestinian, inhabited by the landscape, the language, creating lyrics that speak the sorrow of displacement, and a memory vaster and deeper than any one woman’s, with a restraint that dignifies both grief and rage. Abu-Zeid has beautifully recreated these poems in English, becoming, as Abdelfattah Kilito put it, one of the author’s doubles, and bringing Anglophone readers a necessary and unique Palestinian voice." —Marilyn Hacker
"I started making a list of lines from Olivia Elias’s Chaos, Crossing, but the list grew so large that it was clear to me that this is no ordinary collection of poems. One has first to lose faith in words, these poems suggest, then grapple with each word, each line break, their placement on the page, in order to regroup them. Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s translation conveys Elias’s tension and urgency, asking us to stop at each word and to approach one of her central questions: is it possible that too much rage kills rage?" —Ahmad Almallah, author of Bitter English
"Olivia Elias's poems, artfully translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, push up from the depths of the earth, rising from wreckage and begetting grace. Elias, a Palestinian exile, creates beauty from damage, playing with the tension between chaos and innocence. This book is a fierce and tender odyssey around the world and deep inside the human psyche. When afraid, the narrator describes how her grandmother 'traces magic circles all around [her].' Elias's poems do this for us." —Sylvie Baumgartel
“The times and places in Chaos, Crossing by Olivia Elias have searching questions for those who stop there, and bones to pick from snapping jaws, everywhere state terror goes unveneered and war is occupation, in island camps and shipping lanes of forcible displacement, a ripple of cosmic fury in every poem—enactments of refusal by a ‘citizen-scribe of occupied Palestine and the world’ that are poems to reread and inhabit, belonging everywhere and now entering English-language poetry, which will be much affected through the capable edition and translation of Kareem James Abu-Zeid.” —David Larsen
“The poems are most precise when localized to a specific set of anxieties and observations, as when recounting how the ‘village elders,’ who, “surrounded by beauty […] offered / their faces like old cats in the sun.” — Cindy Juyoung Ok, Poetry Foundation
Poetry. Middle Eastern Studies. Women's Studies.
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Poet of the Palestinian diaspora, born in Haifa in 1944, Olivia Elias writes in French. She lived until she was 16 years old in Lebanon where her family took refuge in 1948, then in Montréal-Canada, before moving to France. Her third and most recent collection, Chaos, Traversée, appeared in 2019. Characterized by terse, laconic language and strong rhythms, her poetry shows a deep sensitivity to the Palestinian cause, the plight of refugees and human suffering in general. Her work, translated into English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Japanese, has been published in numerous journals and in anthologies.
Kareem James Abu-Zeid is a translator of writers from across the Arab world, including Najwan Darwish (Palestine), Adonis (Syria), Rabee Jaber (Lebanon), and Dunya Mikhail (Iraq). He has received an NEA translation grant, PEN Center USA's Translation Award, a Fulbright Fellowship (Germany), and a CASA Fellowship (Egypt), among other honors. He is also the author of The Poetics of Adonis and Yves Bonnefoy: Poetry as Spiritual Practice.