There’s something magical about the new anthology, Inclined to Speak. Maybe it’s the fact that, although the poets included are listed alphabetically, there’s a natural, beautiful progression in theme, rhythm, and voice. Or maybe it’s the cover, a gorgeous, intricate, pop art-ish collection of people. Or maybe it’s Hayan Charara’s selection of poets, a grouping never before collected under the roof of one anthology. Or perhaps it’s the poems themselves, each standing proud.
The first thing that greets you, when you begin the anthology, is Charara’s jaw-dropping introduction, a must-read for poets, literature-lovers, students, academics, and all humans in general. The anthology then collects poems by better known writers like Naomi Shihab Nye, DH Melhem, and Lawrence Joseph, and showcases the talents of brilliant poets like Kevin Gerard Rashid, Nuar AlSadir, and Zaid Shlah.
If you’ve ever taken or taught an Arab American literature class, you know about the kinds of anthologies that are already available. Until recently, many books grouped poets together by age, or included fiction, essays, and poems, or had titles based on food. Inclined to Speak heralds a totally new, totally comprehensive, totally total approach to Arab American poetry: the writers are of all ages, backgrounds, and publishing histories. We have slam poets, traditional poets, feminist poets, poets. We have Muslims, Atheists, Catholics. We have long, epic poems, definition poems, ghazals, prose poems, more. The bottom line? We have. And it’s wonderful.
Naturally pre-occupied with the idea of home and belonging, the poems raise interesting questions. Saladin Ahmed writes about Ibn Sina (“Avicenna”):
Is he writing on versification, jurisprudence,
medicine, remedies of the heart?
Which of this hundred books is he completing?
How can he be so calm, hearing the bombs fall
on his family, only a thousand years away?
In Elmaz Abinader’s beautiful “This House, My Bones,” the narrator asks, “How can we pack anything if not everything?”
Nathalie Handal writes, “Are you returning? Am I returning?”
“What to say?” Phillip Metres asks.
“What,” Jack Marshall seems to pick up, “might you have said had you been allowed to speak?”
This collection provides a luminous answer.