“Louder than Hearts is a brilliant, daring addition to a growing corpus of work that celebrates our shared present while bearing witness to shared pain.”—Theophilus Kwek, The London Magazine
Winner of the sixth annual May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize
A contemporary woman makes complex negotiations with history and culture in a voice equally strong, discerning, God-soaked, and edgy—creating music out of personal longing and cultural tragedy. Hashem Beck’s poems offer a lens through which to see life in the Middle East. They are timeless explorations of love, loss, and the poet’s attempt to understand her own experience in the context of world events and the spiritual realities that permeate them.
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Reviews / Endorsements
“The poems in Louder than Hearts range across Tripoli, Mosul, Syria, Beirut, London, Paris, and New York, illuminating what is simultaneously most foreign and familiar in those places: the fundamental human drive to connect with others through language and the complexities of doing so in a world divided by cultural, religious, linguistic, and political boundaries. Hashem Beck writes from a certainty in the consolations of the written word. Each line defies uprooting and takes flight, suddenly and assuredly. As the title poem notes, the motions and avowals in Hashem Beck’s work are bound but not beholden to tradition. The ancient tattoo of drumbeat and bloodline cross corridors, balconies, playgrounds, land-mine fields, broken houses, wastelands, continents, oceans, and ideologies. Louder than Hearts bears witness to the scarred and to the disconsolate, to the war-ravaged and to the displaced, to the strange interior countries one must survey and commit to memory if one is to understand the reality of human suffering.”—Dante Di Stefano, Best American Poetry 2016
“Reading Louder than Hearts, it struck me that Zeina has invented her own language, something between English and Arabic.”—The Hindu
“There isn’t a word of falseness, a hint of voguish irony — just a deep love for her subjects and her language and an astonishing ability to relay that in verse. [...] There’s no simpler way to say: it’s actual magic, the kind of magic poetry is uniquely capable of performing. Again and again in the collection, Beck demonstrates herself to be a sincere master of this conjuring.”—Kaveh Akbar, Ron Slate's Blog
“I don’t know how Zeina Hashem Beck is able to do this. Her poems feel like whole worlds—potent conversations with the self, the soul, the many landscapes of being, and the news that confounds us all. They weave two languages into a perfect fabric of presence, with an almost mystical sense of pacing and power. “You Fixed It” might be one of the masterpieces of our time. There is death, loss, disaster, but more importantly, an exquisite sense of reviving language and poetry—anthems of life, love, respect, abounding. Everything Arabic we treasure comes alive in these poems. Readers will feel restored to so many homes, revived, amazed. Zeina Hashem Beck writes with a brilliant, absolutely essential voice.”—Naomi Shihab Nye
“Zeina Hashem Beck’s Louder than Hearts, has it all—compelling language and a sense of moral gravitas, personal urgency and the ability to address a larger world with passion and artfulness. These poems are sensual and serious. They have grit and spirit, grief and music. They give us a contemporary woman making her complex negotiations with history and culture in a voice that is strong and discerning, God-soaked and edgy, able to carry both loss and beauty, to make music out of personal longing and cultural tragedy. By threading Arabic words throughout the book Beck creates a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of translation, cultural and linguistic. And yet, how clearly these poems speak to us all. Louder than Hearts is certainly timely in the way it provides a lens through which to see life in the Middle East, and hear the musical mix of English and Arabic. But the poems are also timeless explorations of love and loss, of an individual’s attempt to understand her own intimate experience within in the larger context of world events and the spiritual realities that permeate them.”—Betsy Sholl, 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize judge, and author of Otherwise Unseeable
From the Book:
Dear Aleppo, no moon tonight
nor my lover's cheek
above the palm trees.
There were six of us
now there are five
by the river.
In the garden of our language, a beggar
is he who waits to reap a kiss
at my door.
Did they have to bomb your body
open, to behold Allah
in your artery?
I should tell him a kiss is haram on a Friday.
Instead, we count the deaths, bright
above the palm trees.
In the currency of love, her teeth
are pearls. He collects them
by the river.
If we played the ney would we
resurrect the bulbul buried
at my door?
Dear Aleppo, what qudud now
to measure the breath, the percussion
in your artery?
ZEINA HASHEM BECK, a Lebanese poet, holds degrees in English literature from the American University of Beirut. Her collection To Live in Autumn won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her chapbook 3arabi Song won the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize. She has published in Ploughshares, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, Mizna, Sukoon, Magma, and Mslexia, among others. Founder of PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective in Dubai, Hashem Beck is a strong performer and has been featured in literary festivals in the Middle East, the UK, and the US.
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