Friday, August 10, 2012

my name on his tongue: poems - Laila Halaby


Laila Halaby was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and American mother, she grew up mostly in Arizona. She is the author of two novels, West of Jordan (2003; winner of a Pen Beyond Margins Award) and Once in a Promised Land (2007). She holds an undergraduate degree in Italian and Arabic from Washington University (St Louis), she was also a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship for the study of Jordanian folklore, which resulted in a collection of Palestinian folktales for children. In addition, she also writes poetry which is highly personal, reflecting the disparity between the places and cultures she grew up within.

The Journey (1)


    out of place

a single mother’s only child fatherless

blanketed in foreignness

         my mother ran

from one desert to another until she found home


we were opposites in a small house me, loud and


wild with a longing

I didn’t speak fluently

she, quiet and still,

stashing her multilingual sorrows in the tool shed

out back

       she tried to teach me in American how to be

an Arab

but didn’t quite get it right

left stuff out

left me uncomfortable

in my shoes

always searching

for the right pair

(excerpt from The Journey )

In this, her first collection of poetry, she uses a narrative style to explore what it means to be an outsider within your own culture, of trying to navigate between the two identities of Arab and American, and how this reflects on her as as women and as a writer. The poems in this collection span about twenty years, giving it almost the appearance of a memoir, detailing the heartaches and struggles, the dilemmas that have confronted & puzzled her, the experiences that she faced as an individual viewed as “Arab” in a post 9/11 world with all the grief and anger, all the hope  that things could be better / different that went with living through such times. “My name on his tongue”, is about identity; found or lost, is about relationships; those that made it and those that fell by the wayside, it’s about war & peace and the murky wasteland that divides the two. “My name on his tongue” is a beautiful lyrical reflection, that is both personal and political as are all stories that highlight an individual’s identity and how it relates to a geographical line on a map.


After a reading by Khaled Mattawa (a Libyan poet living in the US).

Your place in the world is solid

         my place in the world moves without a


is based on mishaps

unwanted affairs

political discord

       my place drifts

between Here and There West and East

sometimes gets lodged In-Between

          my place is a Somewhere that cannot be found

on any map

was detached

as I was Born

in a place that belonged to neither of my parents

        can’t be an immigrant

if you haven’t left somewhere can’t be a native

if you’re from somewhere else which is why I'm

fluent in the language of exiled souls

(Excerpt from: After a reading by Khaled Mattawa)


Author Spotlight: Laila Halaby

Laila Halaby: Poetry

Mediterranean poetry(Laila Halaby)

Syracuse University Press


ds said...

"...fluent in the language of exiled souls." Yes indeed, she is. Many thanks for the introduction. I will have to locate Ms. Halaby's book.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Admittedly, I clicked over to your review because I thought the cover image was so compelling, but this sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for the review.

Bellezza said...

Agh! I had a whole long comment and my $&/)?&@ iPhone lost it...that or the stupid person using it.

Anyway, I started by saying how fascinating that she holds a degree in Italian and Arabic. Then I went on to say how wonderful the poem is about the child's discomfort. As you know, I will always believe that we are all strangers in this land; this world is not our home. I find it especially painful for children of a culture other than the one in which they're living, but I still consider it to be a universal theme. Maybe I'm over applying my own discomfort in America...

Anyway, this is a fascinating theme, and one I found so well expressed in the book Evel Knievel Days, where the hero must go from Montana to Cairo to discover "home."

Loved your post, Gary.

Caroline said...

This sounds very good. I like her voice, it's poetical but very close to someone telling you a story.

James said...

The other or outsider has always fascinated me. Ms. Halaby beautifully speaks of this and the nature of one's identity.
Thanks for the review.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi ds, please do I think you'll relish it.

Hello As the Crowe Flies and Reads, It's a great image & fully backed up by the content.

Ciao Bellezza, I have similar problems with my HTC, totally agree with the universality of the theme, you don't need to be outside of a culture to feel outside of a culture.

Hi Caroline, it is like a memoir although in poetic form.

Hi James, same here although in my case because it's a position I consider myself to have been in for a large part of my life.

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to these amazing poets, Parrish! I could particularly identify with the second poem, having lived my whole life away from my motherland :)

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks for the enticing review, Parrish - migrant and marginal experiences are high on my interest list so I'll be looking out for this collection.