This week’s other featured books, “Whatever Happened to Ohio?” by James Gallant and “Double Edged,” by Jessie Kwak, can be found by scrolling down below this post, along with the First Tuesday Replay. Or, click the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: The Taste of the Earth.
PUBLISHED IN: 2019.
THE AUTHOR: Hedy Habra.
THE EDITOR: Silver Concho Poetry Series Editors: Pam Uschuk and William Pitt Root.
THE PUBLISHER: Kevin Morgan Watson, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Press 53, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
SUMMARY: The poems in The Taste of the Earth weave together personal history with the complex cultural heritage of Hedy Habra’s countries of origin. Steeped in memories, loss and longing, these poems invite the reader to revisit Egypt’s mythical past and Lebanon’s turmoil, recalling the intersecting roots of culture and language in an act of artistic recollection that bridges time and space. Through the lyrical power of the senses, Habra’s poems bring to life scenes of strife and upheaval as well as profound joy. Such images linger in the mind and keep evolving in search for the permanence of beauty within suffering as they are evoked by trees, houses, fountains and familiar objects, each voice offering with its testimony a broader perspective on the interconnectedness of worlds and universality of emotions.
THE BACK STORY: The Taste of the Earth was twelve years in the making. The collection consists in a ‘memoir in poems,’ weaving together personal memories with my cultural heritage within a broader perspective on history, language, religion, mythology and culture. Some poems revisit Egypt’s myths and ancient rituals, and others focus on Lebanon’s unrest, and my impressions upon going back twenty-five years later. These poems offer a reflection from the perspective of exile on the Arab Spring and the aftermath of violence in the Middle East.
WHY THIS TITLE? The poems in The Taste of the Earth are about roots, origins and displacements. As we move from one country to another, we carry with us the tastes and fragrances not only of flowers but also of fruits and vegetables. But the sense of taste can be imagined metaphorically as a feeling. Since taste is inseparable from the sense of smell and also associated to sight and sound, its reminiscence evokes the physical and emotional landscape of every home we have lived in.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? We all have a unique trajectory and a story to tell. That’s why readers reach out to different voices and styles in order to connect with the poet’s world and inner life. Readers who are interested in other cultures and the way they intersect will find this book interesting. The poems’ self-reflexivity represents a search for truth and an attempt to reach a deeper understanding of oneself, of one another, and of the world.
The Taste of the Earth has won several literary awards: Winner of the 2020 Silver Nautilus Award, 2020 Honorable Mention Winner for the Eric Hoffer Award in Poetry; Grand Prix Short List Honoree in all genres for the Eric Hoffer Award, and Finalist for the Best Book Award.
One of the aspects that characterizes The Taste of the Earth would be its formal experimentation. The collection alternates free verse with pantoums, haibuns, prose poems and anima methodi poems. as well as persona poems from the point of view of inanimate objects. A couple of long sections titled “Meditations” have original and complex forms. The first one, titled “Meditations Over Phoenician Letters,” is an abecedarian and the second, “Meditations Over the Eye of Horus,” consists in a series of haibuns that juxtapose Ancient Egyptian rituals with more recent memories of Egypt. Both poems incorporate Arabic script as well as visual symbols and characters.
“The Taste of the Earth contains numerous histories—from Egypt’s distant past to the Lebanese Civil War to the Arab Spring—though history is not “the straight line that accompanies silence.” These poems confess that image can hide the smell of blood and the smell of jasmine, both the terrible and the sweet in the story of a place. Habra also teaches us that it is not just language and maps that tell history, but that objects carry what they have witnessed, the truths they are waiting to speak.” —Traci Brimhall, author of Saudade
“In this lush collection, the force of the lyric brings imagination, witness, myth, and memory into an opulent confluence. With formal variation—from the Japanese haibun, to the Malay pantoum, to an abecedarian composed of Phoenician letters, to an intersection of the senses and mathematics via the Eye of Horus—Habra’s poems enact art as the process of “remembering and forgetting, /telling and retelling.” As the focus here, often, is war and its devastations, witnessed and remembered, The Taste of the Earth is rife with sorrow songs, but each is moored by the speaker as a beholder of earth’s beauty as it pours in through the senses and finds a home in language: “[T]he jacaranda’s blue light anchors me back,” Habra writes, “whispering, yes, it’s here, deep inside, fluttering like a dove’s wings.” —Diane Seuss, author of Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
“You may be sitting in your favorite chair at home when you begin to read Hedy Habra’s latest collection of poems, The Taste of the Earth, but that’s not where you’ll be. You’ll be in Damascus, Heliopolis, Beirut, Aleppo. Before you know it, as if dreaming, you’ll be gliding along the streets of these cities, listening to their sounds, overhearing bits of conversation. Born in Egypt, Habra is part of the diaspora of Middle Easterners compelled to leave lands they love due to war and upheaval. There is longing for home in every sense of the word—for a place, a person, a taste, a story, a particular light, a language, a gesture, a laugh. It is this longing that makes these poems universal, regardless of where you are as you read them.” —Susan Azar Porterfield, winner of the Cider Press Review Editor’s Prize for Dirt, Root, Silk.
“These are a painter’s poems, sensuous and filled with scenes under the surface. In her journey, Hedy Habra digs into the roots to find stories of wisdom. What’s special about these stories is that, even though they are painful, their exotic flavor is of earth, which belongs to everyone. They wander through memory and, image by image, settle in the soul “as sand in an hourglass.” —Dunya Mikhail, author of In Her Feminine Sign
AUTHOR PROFILE: Hedy Habra is a Lebanese American poet and essayist, born in Egypt. She has authored three poetry collections, most recently, The Taste of the Earth (Press 53 2019), Winner of the 2020 Silver Nautilus Book Award, Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Finalist for the Best Book Award. Tea in Heliopolis won the Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes was finalist for the Best Book Award and the International Book Award. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her book of criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa, examines the visual aspects of the Peruvian Nobel Prize Winner narrative. Habra holds a B.S. in Pharmacy from Beirut’s Saint Joseph University. She earned an M.A. and an M.F.A. in English and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University where she has been teaching. A fourteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the net, and recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Award, her multilingual work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. https://www.hedyhabra.com/
The Taste of the Earth, Winner of the 2020 Silver Nautilus Book Award, 2020 Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, Grand Prix Short-list Honoree in all genres for the Eric Hoffer Award, and Finalist for the Best Book Award in Poetry. https://www.press53.com/poetry-collections/the-taste-of-the-earth-by-hedy-habra?fbclid=IwAR16qdEU_2Jg1by8sSs2dbVHwQHsEmxRtGlIbf5UcR55CZrAXrwIzJS4cmU https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hedy+habra+amazon&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
Under Brushstrokes, Finalist for the Best Book Award in Poetry and Finalist for the International Book Award in Poetry https://www.press53.com/poetry-collections/under-brushstrokes-by-hedy-habra https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hedy+habra+amazon&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
Tea in Heliopolis, Winner of the USA Best Book Award in Poetry and finalist for the International Book Award in Poetry https://www.press53.com/poetry-collections/tea-in-heliopolis-by-hedy-habra https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hedy+habra+amazon&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
Flying Carpets, Honorable Mention for the Arab American Book Award and finalist for the USA Best Book Award in Short Fiction and the Eric Hoffer Award in Short Fiction https://www.amazon.com/Hedy-Habra/e/B00GW9AZ94%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hedy+habra+amazon&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
The Taste of the Earth
Two fawns cross the creek. One of them pauses, linked
to his mirror reflection by the tip of his tongue, parallel
worlds merge on the fault line of a folded image.
A musical phrase sticks to your skin, the wind espouses
ripples, liquid dunes lick the shoreline, give moisture to
wild brush, blown-over seeds and thoughts.
Iridescent hummingbirds hover over purple iris blooms.
The shore is faithful to the stream’s first touch. Like first
love, it nourishes tendrils rising into a green flame,
never forgotten like the taste of the earth. A desert thirsts
for an oasis, a fawn melts into the music of a fable,
a gazelle, new memories map rhizomes twisting,
anchoring us farther with each shoot spreading from our
birthplace to everywhere we’ve lived, to where we live
now, and does it make a difference if the root remembers?
The Abandoned Fountain
I wasn’t always covered with dust and fallen leaves. Water’s cooling ferns once ran over my marbled veins, opening up and closing like fans. I knew the language of each ripple and secrets rippled through my heart, sighs of joy or pain filled my dreams until the day I woke up in the midst of rubbles.
In the deserted courtyard, children came to wash their naked soles, bleeding from cracks like hardened cement, but I was too dry to soothe their wounds. No one cleans my mosaic tiles any longer, no one rubs my copper faucets, no one sits on the smooth edges that were my pride. At dusk, shadows without a head, chase limbs searching for blind shadows.
I hear voices, fractured like shattered mirrors, each searching for an ear, unable to find a match, lost cries soar in dissonance, rise in volutes of pain, circle around broken bricks and stones, disappear through holes and crevices. I know a river of voices runs down the streets surrounded with indifference, endlessly swelling, sending ashen messages to the wind.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Michigan News Agency, Kalamazoo, Michigan http://www.michigannews.biz/ Kazoo Books, Kalamazoo, Michigan https://kazoobooks.com/ This is a Bookstore & Bookbug https://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Press 53: https://www.press53.com/poetry-collections/the-taste-of-the-earth-by-hedy-habra?fbclid=IwAR16qdEU_2Jg1by8sSs2dbVHwQHsEmxRtGlIbf5UcR55CZrAXrwIzJS4cmU
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: