Welcome to This Week in Books, a new Rumpus column that will highlight books just released by small and independent presses.
Books are more important than ever. As we head into a Trump presidency, we’re seeing attacks on basic constitutional rights, increased hate crimes, and denial of accepted science. 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. Books contain stories, and stories are what make us human. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need good, wise books. 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. My goal is to bring some of these books of to your attention.
For this first installment, I’ve selected The Red Hijab (BkMk Press, November 2016) by Bonnie Bolling for a number of reasons, not the least of which because Bolling takes as her subject a people and region that many in the United States fear and even hate.
The Red Hijab, which won the 2015 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, is Bolling’s second full-length collection of poetry. It came out of time she spent in the Middle East, of which Bolling wrote, “nothing I’d seen already, or heard or experienced could have prepared me for this place. Not a day goes by when I do not witness something extraordinary.”
H. L. Hix writes in the book’s forward, “The Red Hijab will not bring about world peace, but it offers one of poetry’s most generous gifts: it sees more, and more clearly, than the nightly news sees, and it offers that richer, cleaner sight to its readers.”
While these poems do address the region’s violent past and present—”the unrest,” the threat of war—they also focus on small, quiet moments. Observations of interactions, nature, ordinary kindnesses. The eponymous poem focuses in microscopic detail on a rare rainy day and the way a woman wearing a red hijab provides bright color against a dark sky:
her brown face turned down
but her red hijab a damp smudge
of brightness moving, in relief,
against the bruising sky.
That moment captures the essence of the human struggle in four simple, but precise lines. Bolling’s poetry humanizes a region that many Americans see only as a stronghold of Muslim extremists. Bolling reminds us that the quotidian tasks of life—laundry, cooking, even writing—continue in spite of the unrest.
“I live here in the midst of it, and am trying to write some truth about it,” Bolling said.
May we all strive for the same.
Logo art by Max Winter.