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In his second book of poems, Ahmad Almallah seeks a language that captures the afterlives of the mother tongue. This collection blurs the borders between languages, between the living and the dead, between presence and absence.
The poems of BORDER WISDOM break and mourn physical borders at the same time. Here the exilic idea of a return to a home is expressed in the daily return to the blank page in search of a poem. In these returns the body brushes against the past and, as Hart Crane puts it, taps into “that memory all things nurse.”
Poetry. Middle Eastern Studies.
“In BORDER WISDOM, Ahmad Almallah takes the notable step of writing in a mix of Arabic and English scripts, a bilingual poetics that has surfaced intermittently among the finest of our experimental writers. For this and for his exemplary writings in standalone English, I would extend to him the well-known welcome that Emerson directed to Whitman nearly two centuries ago: ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career.’” —Jerome Rothenberg
“BORDER WISDOM reassembles the loss of a mother, mother tongue, and motherland, and gives pain a passage. The Arabic and English become ‘windows [that] know something of the hidden world.’ These poems are infinite and steadily moving in memory of all that’s gone, and all that will be regained. A piercing collection.” —Nathalie Handal
“Ahmad Almallah observes the dust that rises when war and grief collide in the rubble of brief existences made briefer by geopolitical devastations. These poems honor the daily trembling and unexpected questions that accompany the losses of one’s spaces of origin—one’s mother, one’s land, one’s language. I won’t lie and say that it is easy to read this unflinching work, these searing confrontations with the lividity and ferocity of grief. But I admire a poet who is unafraid to rise up and be a pallbearer, who is unafraid to point out the difficulty of holding in our memory what we would rather hold in our arms.” —Divya Victor
“Reading this book, one comes to understand that one of the most astounding, paradoxical companions to our grief is precision.” —Polina Barskova
“Almallah offers us a dazzling contemplation on the mother tongue and on transposing that tongue, so naturally, into a second language, making the Arabic of the unconscious glaringly visible on the page, subversively complementing the prevalent English of this poetic Möbius strip.” —Antón Shammás
“Almallah’s writing is immensely relevant; we need his voice.” —Naomi Shihab Nye
Al Filreis on poems from Border Wisdom @ Jacket2Interview @ Great River ReviewInterview @ PennTodayReview of Ahmad Almallah's Bitter English @ Jacket2Review of Ahmad Almallah's Bitter English @ Public Books
Ahmad Almallah grew up in Bethlehem, Palestine and currently lives in Philadelphia where he is an artist-in- residence in Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. His first book of poems, Bitter English, was published in the Phoenix Poets Series from the University of Chicago Press in 2019. He received the 2018 Edith Goldberg Paulson Memorial Prize for Creative Writing, and his sequence of poems "Recourse," won the 2017 Blanche Colton Williams Fellowship. His poems have appeared in Jacket2, Track//Four, All Roads Will Lead You Home, Apiary, Supplement, SAND, Michigan Quarterly Review, Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by Refugees, Cordite Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, American Poetry Review, and Poetry, among others.