In O, the third full-length poetry collection by Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck (Louder than Hearts), familial love and friendship salve ambivalence about heritage and the body. Hashem Beck, now living in California, expresses paradoxical feelings about her birthplace. "Fatherlands/ are ominous & comforting," she writes, describing Beirut as a "city of waste & jacaranda." In one of the six ghazals, which are some of the collection's standouts, she paints her relationship with the capital as a doomed affair: "You were never mine. I, never yours./ Isn't that true love's ode, dear Beirut?" Indeed, the collection also features eight odes that vary in length and form--from a multi-stanza, second-person piece about lipstick to a brief memory of roadside strawberries.
Other themes include trying to love one's body ("the church that I am"), frustration with cyclical violence ("I'm tired of metaphors about peace") and the risks inherent to parenthood. Family ties fuel poems referencing her late uncle's flower shop, her grandmother's death and a loved one's multiple sclerosis. Friendship is equally important, Hashem Beck confides: "Reader, let me tell you how I keep it together:/ friendships & antidepressants."
This collection of 47 poems teems with alliteration, bird imagery, spiritual language, textspeak and wordplay. In bilingual poems dubbed "duets," English and Arabic trade off on the page. Three separate "triptychs" are set out in columns that can be read across or down the page. Inventive in form, emotionally resonant and grounded in everyday situations, O feels like a lesson in recognizing that, despite the reality of conflict and illness, "beauty always comes." --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck