The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser, published by Gray Wolf Press, is a collection of poetry that gathers the reader up and into itself, and immerses them in the poet’s world. The world of a first generation American/Yemeni trying to find her way in a country while her familial roots are across oceans in Yemen.
Yemen is currently being torn asunder by the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Sunni and Shia Islam. Her people are being starved to death and the country is in ruins. According to Doctors Without Borders it is one of the worst humanitarian disasters occurring in the world currently, yet nobody seems willing or able to do anything to prevent its continuation.
Allmontaser navigates through this minefield of emotional turmoil; the trying to find her way in the US, the destruction of her parent’s homeland and the roots of her culture, and the sense of helplessness that could be overwhelming; with brilliance and honesty.
In her case, at least in reference to this collection of poetry, she honours the quote from the American poet e.e. cummings: “Every artist’s strictly illimitable country is herself. An artist who has played that country false has committed suicide”. Not only has she created her own illimitable country through her art – she is true to it with every word she writes.
Every immigrant child has to create their own illimitable country, one with a foot in two worlds. Almontaser has done a remarkable job of showing us how, while it can be incredibly difficult at times, it can also be a well spring of beauty and strength.
The works Almontaser has created are replete with imagery inspired by Yemen. Whether the physical appearance of the country or its stories, they all seep into the words. Grains of desert sand as grist to the mill of the harsh bustle and reality of life in the US.
To us, the sudden appearance of Arabic script amidst our familiar alphabet seems something exotic and different, a rare bloom in a prosaic garden. However, to Almontaser it’s her reality. Arabic and English are what help define her – make her distinct and a target.
For let’s be real. In the last 20 years a brown skinned woman wearing a hijab and speaking Arabic, Urdo or Pashtan is a target. Being a certain shade of brown period marks you out for special attention at airport security.
In the poem “Home Security After 9/11” she brings this state of fear and uncertainty to life. Quotes from statue books defining, Consent – allowing the police in your house without a warrant, and other supposed controls on police behaviour, are intermingled with nightmare images of the fears inspired by the constant scrutiny. “we are being abducted by [ ]/I ask the low white light, Where will all the Muslims go?/Blue men bustle me into their van, everything a slow lucent swing, lashed stiff in this effigy.”
Even in how the poems are laid out on the page Almontaser has created a statement. From the poem shaped like the goat who is butchered for a celebratory meal to the the inclusion of lines in English laid out from right to left like Arabic script.
Imagine having to relearn the direction letters travel on a page? If you find it difficult to retrain your eye to follow a couple of stanzas of verse how must it be for people who have to make that transition on a permanent basis?
The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser is an amazing collection of poems which not only explore the reality of life in America, but introduces readers to the country of Yemen behind the bloodshed and horror. Almontaser has been true to her strictly illimitable country and isn’t hesitant about showing it to us warts and all.