Ante body

Nightboat. May 2022. 88p. ISBN 9781643621425. pap. $16.95. POETRY
This latest collection from the Whiting Award–winning Helal (Invasive Species) explores the impact of migration, discrimination, and global pandemic in a capitalist society, showing how language can be used as a tool of oppression as well as a source of joy. A captivating aspect of the collection is Helal’s use of the poetic form the Arabic, which she invented as a response to the linguistic discrimination experienced from U.S. institutions. In this form, poems are read from right to left: “? cages in children the put they why know you/ fly can we know they because.” In other poems, such as “Bring Back Are Girls” (“It bejins in Berlin/ A Historical Case”), incorrect spellings are almost unnoticeable, showing how meaning can transcend the formal aspects of language like orthography and grammar. The humor and wordplay found throughout the collection don’t keep readers from fully experiencing the weight of the themes being addressed.
VERDICT Helal is a powerful voice in poetry, and this newest work does an excellent job of challenging readers to think differently about society. Those unfamiliar with Helal’s work may benefit from reading the author’s notes before diving into the poems, to get a better understanding of the collection and the formatting.
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