REVIEW: (in)habit by Dana Alsamsam

By Tim Crisp

Long ago, we grew permanent in our damage.

The line appears within the third stanza of a poem called “(dis)solution” from Dana Alsamsam’s chapbook (in)habit. “(dis)solution” describes the morning Alsamsam’s parents were legally separated, but as the quote suggests, and as the preceding poems of (in)habit showcase, the unraveling was a long and traumatic process. Over the course of the book, Alsamsam describes the process of trying to build from a broken foundation.

(in)habit is divided into two sections titled (inhalations) and (exhalations), each preceded by a statement of intent. In (inhalations), Alsamsam states, “I attempt to describe my architecture,” building upon her relationships with her parents—her mother, specifically—and key moments that have shaped her sense of self. (exhalations) breaks the past selves apart, in search of a new meaning. The search does not come easy, as Alsamsam traces familiar, unhealthy paths, seeking validation. She encounters the stares of objectifying eyes and the vacancy of lovers who bring nothing but emptiness, but slowly she gains perspective on the pieces of herself and her relationships that can be harnessed in forward movement.

The prose of (in)habit is sharp and careful. Alsamsam utilizes poetic forms with a sense of functionality and an understanding of the power a structure can have in communicating a precise message. “petrichor” charts an anxious walk home alone, escaping the torment of a heckler. The poem’s lines are tightly bound, its syllables contained as the eyes follow down the page in rhythm to Alsamsam’s quickened, nervous steps. “Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France” is a prose poem that offers a snapshot of Alsamsam and her mother, standing on opposite sides of a wide street in Paris. “I am scouring her sacred heart for warmth but it’s too late and there’s too much distance between us,” she thinks, wondering who will be the one to cross the street. It’s a small snapshot of a fractured relationship, but a representative one. Alsamsam works within these tiny moments, the painful ones, but also the tender ones. It’s in the moments that the greater understandings are found, and sprinkled throughout the harrowing moments of (in)habit, there are also tiny bits of warmth.

“The Shapes We Make” brings readers into a quiet morning in a shared apartment with coffee, a mischievous cat, and an attentive partner. Little is said until the moment one asks if the other would like more coffee, “I realize the brief tragedy of flesh,” Alsamsam notes, “is shifted to a warm and furnished place.” Within the fear and the trauma that builds throughout (in)habit, warmth such as this is a gift to relish in.

 courtesy of  tenderness, yea

courtesy of tenderness, yea

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Representation and Accessibility at the Forefront of New Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology

By Bella Crum

Ghost Fishing, an Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, is a three section collection that came out of University of Georgia Press on April 1st of this year. The term "ghost fishing" is the name for what happens when improperly discarded fishing gear is left to float through the ocean, trapping and killing a tragic amount of sea life in its path. The anthology takes this term for its name, alongside a blue-grey ramshackled industrial scene on the cover, setting readers up to think gloomily about safety, displacement and destruction.

This anthology took off in its ability to make both eco-justice and poetry feel accessible and relatable. At the forefront of this is the well sought out inclusion of diverse cultural and identity representations in the poets and their topics. Compiling a truly representational book of ecologically and socially aware poetry from a subject historically shadowed by cliché dead white men musing about flowers is no small feat. In doing so, editor Melissa Tuckey helped correct the cliché and successfully acknowledged readers who have felt their narratives on this topic were broadly unheard and unaccounted for up until this point.

To add to this, the use of plain language in the thoughtful forewords placed before each section offered a way in for every reader. These brief introductions were something that stood out, as they did not necessarily seek to teach, as many anthologies do. Instead, they opened a window into what each author intended and why the poem was included in the anthology, thus allowing the poetry to do the teaching. By effectively piecing together each poem’s relationship with eco-justice using direct language and annotated excerpts, the anthology became accessible to a wide variety of readers — regardless of if they had experience interacting with poetry or not.

I was thoroughly surprised by how eco-justice was continually defined and redefined throughout the anthology. Integrating racism, native peoples and land, war, human and animal connections, and food in one cohesive collection is a union I didn’t know I was waiting for. By including such a wide range of topics, people are able to relate and by virtue, can envision themselves as a player in the conversation surrounding eco-justice.

Reading this anthology was refreshing, and I have already recommended it to many of my fellow writers who muse on topics ranging from race and culture to trauma and the natural environment. Ghost Fishing houses a range of insightful voices that create a powerhouse resource for socially and ecologically aware narratives, illustrating that eco-justice concerns us all. Not only is this book for poets, but it is a book for anyone who lives anywhere, seeking to better understand eco-justice and its many manifestations through the power of poetry.  

 Courtesy or UGA Press

Courtesy or UGA Press