Ahmad Almallah's BITTER ENGLISH (in convo w/ Esraa al-Shammari
Please join us for a reading and discussion of Ahmad Almallah's
with the author in conversation w/ Esraa al-Shammari!
Imagine you are a Palestinian who came to America as a young man, eventually finding yourself caught between the country you live in with your wife and daughter, and the home—and parents—you left behind. Imagine living every day in your nonnative language and becoming estranged from your native tongue, which you use less and less as you become more ensconced in the United States. This is the story told by Ahmad Almallah in Bitter English, an autobiography-in-verse that explores the central role language plays in how we construct our identities and how our cultures construct them for us.
Through finely crafted poems that utilize a plainspoken roughness to keep the reader slightly disoriented, Almallah replicates his own verbal and cultural experience of existing between languages and societies. There is a sense of displacement to these poems as Almallah recounts the amusing, sad, and perilous moments of day-to-day living in exile. At the heart of Bitter English is a sense of loss, both of home and of his mother, whose struggle with Alzheimer’s becomes a reflection of his own reality in exile. Filled with wit, humor, and sharp observations of the world, Bitter English brings a fresh poetic voice to the American immigrant experience.
Charles Bernstein, author of Near/Miss
“Ahmad Almallah’s Bitter English is a book of prismatic pulsations writ against moving backgrounds. These counterpaeans are balm to the exiled and grieving—and to all of us newly arriving.”
Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle
“Almallah is a true original, apparent from the first time I heard him read a poem aloud, years ago. As a follower of his terrific work, I am delighted to see it brought together in Bitter English. His poetry, both fresh and frank, entrances readers through astonishing, breathtaking ways of unfolding. Almallah’s writing is immensely relevant; we need his voice."
Donna Masini, author of 4:30 Movie
“‘I wanted to write a love poem but instead / I watched the news’ begins a poem in Ahmad Almallah’s wrenching collection, in which the news is terrible, the familiar is inscrutable, and the structures—of language, home, disaster, family, citizenship, consciousness—are broken. With grief, rage, and a fierce love, Almallah dares himself to imagine with ‘this english tongue I use’—in line waiting for stamps or recycling plastics—and what harrowing poems his bitter English has wrought.”
ESRAA AL-SHAMMARI is a doctoral candidate in Arabic literature at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Penn. She has two MA degrees in Arabic from Yale University (2015) and the American University of Beirut (2012), and a BA in English from the American University of Kuwait (2009). She is currently working towards her dissertation on obscurity in modernist Arabic poetry, with a focus on the Syrian-Kurdish poet Salim Barakat and his theory of language. Her research pursues questions of Arabic poetics, untranslatability, classical Arabic literary criticism, and statelessness. She has received, among others, a SAS Hopkinson Fellowship in 2017-2018 in recognition of her superlative academic performance in her program at Penn, Janet Lee Stevens Award in 2017, and Abdul Hadi Debs Endowment Award for Academic Excellence from AUB in 2012.
Co-sponsored by the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania
Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Penn Book Center
130 S. 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104