Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
“Now you are about to read the poetry of an Arab Australian, which is a rare thing when it shouldn’t be. Now you are about to read the work of a queer Arab Australian, which is a rare thing when it shouldn’t be. Now you are about to read the life of a queer Muslim Arab Australian from Western Sydney, from a broke and broken family—not rare, but it should be.”
Sakr writes about his immigrant experience in Australia, his life as a bisexual Muslim, environmental destruction, the everyday racism he encounters, and the larger issue of systemic racism in Australia. In “ghosting the ghetto,” he explores family, tradition, place, and marginalization with breathy lines that end in small punches to the gut. The poem ends with an evocative, illuminating epiphany: “they left the blueprints in my skin, every alley & every river, every ghost & every ghetto.” The “they” refers back to his grandparents, the landscapes of his childhood, his fractured family.
Cordite is based in Australia, but has an international reach according to publisher Kent McCarter, with forty percent of its readership coming from outside Australia and New Zealand. The themes of These Wild Houses will be familiar to anyone from a wealthy, developed, English-speaking nation. Ghettos and discrimination are not limited to American cities and citizens.
Take, for example, the poem “Election Day,” which describes the mad monotony of democracy in action (or lack thereof) with a rush of snapshots and insights and a dash of the quotidian:
These few hours are all you’ll have to find your feet,
to lose your swaying sea legs, so used are we
to constantly being tossed on the heaving blue-tied back
of politics. That morning, let the bitter aroma of Arabica beans
flood your nose, mouth, throat. Anticipate the heat
to come. Water the flowers before you forget
and everything is reset to the blur, dying coral reefs
and hirsute miners in fluro vests digging up bodies,
refugees mired in valuable rock.
The poem is written such that it is difficult to break into individual lines. Sentences end in the middle of lines, and new ones begin. There are individual pieces, but it is one interconnected whole, a reflection of the structure of our lives, and the world at large. To my American ears, this verse sounds all too familiar.
While Sakr invites readers into his book, he encourages them not to stop with it. “Discover the other diverse writers and poets in this country—find us, find our books. We’re here, and we’re growing.”
Again, “We are here. We are growing.” May we all grow together.
Logo art by Max Winter.