O (Penguin Poets) (Paperback)
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“O is so full of music and passion for life . . . Zeina Hashem Beck’s poems unfold the abundance of our world.” —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
From a "brilliant, absolutely essential voice" whose "poems feel like whole worlds" (Naomi Shihab Nye), a poetry collection considering the body physical, the body politic, and the body sacred
Zeina Hashem Beck writes at the intersection of the divine and the profane, where she crafts elegant, candid poems that simultaneously exude a boundless curiosity and a deep knowingness. Formally electrifying—from lyrics and triptychs to ghazals and Zeina's own duets, in which English and Arabic echo and contradict each other—O explores the limits of language, notions of home and exile, and stirring visions of motherhood, memory, and faith.
About the Author
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet and the author of two previous full-length collections of poetry: Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017) and To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), as well as two chapbooks: 3arabi Song (Rattle, 2016) and There Was and How Much There Was (smith|doorstop, 2016). Educated in Arabic, English, and French, Zeina has a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize, and her work appeared in The New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. Zeina is the co-creator and co-host, with poet Farah Chamma, of Maqsouda, a podcast about Arabic poetry produced by Sowt. After a lifetime in Lebanon and a decade in Dubai, Zeina recently moved to California with her husband and two daughters.
Advance praise for O:
“Zeina Hashem Beck’s work is always layered and powerful, interrogating how we envision home, language and identity amid external forces that may be crushing in their impact . . . For a woman who has experienced conflict on a variety of personal and political levels, this quest for a language to describe her life, many lives, is profound, and in Beck’s talented hands, beautiful both sonically and in significance.”
—Chicago Review of Books
“O is so full of life, of music and passion for life. In ghazals, odes, revolution songs and invocations of O the world comes vividly alive: 'I carry a name & many cities,' writes Hashem Beck, as her poems unfold the abundance of our world. Abundance, yes: so much tenderness, so much passion in these pages: just one language can't contain it all, so the poet gives us 'Duets,' joining Arabic and English in the same stanza. The lyricism is vehicle of emotional impact—'I Beruited East Houston at first sight,' the poet tells us, and we trust this playfulness and nuance because it is driven by a ritual. Because the ritual isn't separated from the necessity of daily life in these pages. Because most daily things still have a wisp of prayer in them. Because Hashem Beck's prayer isn't shy of calling for revolution, of asking 'to occupy the streets, bring the tires, the sofas, the drums, the blaring cars.' Zeina Hashem Beck's prayer isn't afraid of stories, of new music on your balconies. Listen. Her O brims with the world.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
“Western readers often consume books by international authors like perverse anthropologists, scanning for a word or phrase that buttresses their ill-informed preconceptions, cudgeling a writer’s meticulously woven lyric into vapid social generality. Zeina Hashem Beck’s O rebukes this tendency explicitly in an early poem: “I’m tired of metaphors about peace. // I prefer dark chocolate in the morning, / & a good window.” And then throughout the collection, she rebukes it with her truly undeniable poems—rhymes braid across multiple languages, intricate forms fracture under the weight of their subjects. In one unforgettable piece, a subtle incantation ends on the name of a flower that looses itself across the page like so many petals. Unforgettable, undeniable—these are the words I keep coming back to with O. Anyone who reads it in earnest will emerge better made.”
—Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell
“Zeina Hashem Beck’s O brims with abundant voice and gleams with generosity of both spirit and insight, rich as it is with large—and large-hearted—poems that make space for whole worlds as they pull you in ever closer. Here’s to a poet who teaches us how to find the praiseworthy in this heartbreaking world.”
—Carrie Fountain, author of The Life
“Readers will feel estranged from their received ideas about things, all the while wondrously belonging to the world that Zeina creates. A world of obscured lives, absent people, and memories that slip from our fingers, but a world that nevertheless feels new, unlived. Only poetry is capable of making up for the fact that everything deserts us, and reading O reminds us how urgently we need poetry.”
—Asmaa Azaizeh, author of Don't Believe Me If I Talk to You of War
Praise for the work of Zeina Hashem Beck:
“[A] brilliant, absolutely essential voice [whose] poems feel like whole worlds . . . [Beck's] poems weave two languages into a perfect fabric of presence, with an almost mystical sense of pacing and power . . . There is death, loss, disaster, but more importantly, an exquisite sense of reviving language and poetry—anthems of life, love, respect, abounding. Everything Arabic we treasure comes alive in these poems—readers will feel restored to so many homes, revived, amazed.”
—Naomi Shihab Nye on Louder than Hearts
“Here, as always in the poetry of Zeina Hashem Beck, the world pliés before us in all of its ruthless beauty and terror.”
—Best American Poetry on Louder than Hearts
"Rarely does poetry seem to matter more than while reading the work of Zeina Hashem Beck—a poet of immense talent and passion who is clearly at the beginning of a long and important literary career."
—Rattle Editors on 3arabi Song