Egyptian-American poet and writer Yahia Lababidi is in love with words.
That sounds like a trite thing to say—shouldn’t most poets be in love with words?—but in the case of his Balancing Acts: New and Selected Poems 1993-2015, one is struck by poem after poem of a love for language and for words. Whether he’s writing of the Arab Spring of 2012, a meditation on a mountain, about poet Sylvia Plath, or rejections, his poems exhibit a conscious sense of a love for words.
Lababidi has enjoyed a broad range of literary works. In 2007, he published a book of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere. He has published two previous collections of poetry, Fever Dreams (2011) and Barely There: Short Poems (2013). Also in 2013, he published a collection of essays with the fascinating title of Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing. A series of conversations in 2012 with his friend Alex Stern resulted in their collection as a book, The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi.
And then there are these poems, some new and some taken from the two previously published collections. Lababidi’s range of subjects is broad, but he applies the same love of words—in many of them, an almost lush love of words—in poem after poem.
Fed up with the polite fantasy
of having to stay in one place
and stick to their stations
Humans too, at work, or in love
know such aches and growing pains
when inner furnishings defiantly shift
As decisively, and imperceptibly, as a continent
some thing will stretch, croak or come undone
so that everything else must be reconsidered
One restless dawn, unable to suppress the itch
of wanderlust, with a heavy door left ajar
semi-deliberately, and a new light teasing in
Some piece of immobility will finally quit
suddenly nimble on wooden limbs
as fast as a horse, fleeing the stable.
In this poem, he’s writing of that familiar moment of “mind shift, ” when something happens or something triggers a change in perception and understanding. The shift is so profound that everything must be reconsidered. It can start with something as mundane as a chair or table creaking, as if to express some furniture-like rebellion at having always to be what it’s assigned to be. And that the creakings and shifts happen “incautiously” is an added bonus to the sense of the poem.
Yababidi’s poems and writing have been featured in several anthologies and published in such literary journals as Poetry, The Literary Review, The Prague Review, Tikkun, and many others. He’s received a number of prizes and recognitions for his work, including two nominations for a Pushcart Prize. And his poems have been translated into several languages.
Balancing Acts is more than a fine collection of poetry; it is an ode to language, an essay on loving words, and an enthusiastic celebration of poetry.
Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry—part memoir, part poetry reflections, part anthology—takes readers on a journey to discovering poetry’s purpose, which is, delightfully, nothing. “Why poetry?” Willome asks. “You might as well ask, why chocolate?” Poetry reflects nothing more and nothing less than the pure joy of living, loving, and being, in all of its confusion and wonder. Willome’s book will gently guide you to read, write, and be a little more human through language’s mystery and joy.
—Tania Runyan, author of How to Read a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry”