The Wild Fox of Yemen: Poems

Graywolf. Apr. 2021. 96p. ISBN 9781644450505. pap. $16.
Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, Almontaser’s debut collection is a wonderfully crafted portrait of Muslim womanhood and the country and people of Yemen that also explores femininity, family, post–9/11 discrimination against Muslims, and the wild fox—a “lost, sly animal” who has a reoccurring presence here. Throughout, Almontaser weaves in history, cultural traditions, and the Arabic language, revealing a standout gift for metaphor, wordplay, and storytelling. The fear of disconnection between homeland and home is a recurring theme. In “Recognized Language,” for instance, the narrator struggles to remember the Arabic words that have been lost: “Languages slip into our mouths like second-hand/ smoke. But English grinds Arabic to white sand.” In “Guide to Gardening Your Roots,” Almontaser blends what it means to be Yemeni with the struggles of being Muslim in America: “I don’t bother to cross-examine my accents. When I land, each country looks outside their/ windows and sees a fire-breathing invasion.” But later the poem acknowledges, “No healing exists beneath the ground. But haya grows in an empty desert. The implication/ being that water trickles back to its center. That even the unrooted can ascend.”
VERDICT Captivating and beautifully written, this collection will appeal to a wide variety of audiences, and those not as familiar with Yemeni history or the Arabic language will assuredly be inspired to learn more. Recommended for all collections.
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