7 Poetry Collections by Muslim Writers
The editors of "Halal If You Hear Me" recommend verse that celebrates the multiplicity of Islamic identity
In her forward to Halal If You Hear Me, Safia Elhillo writes, “the poems and essays in this anthology are the Muslim community I didn’t know I was allowed to dream of. The Muslim community my child-self could have blossomed in–proof that there are as many ways to be Muslim as there are Muslims. That my way was one of those ways, was a way of being Muslim that did count.” Muslim women, queer, gender nonconforming and trans people don’t often have a lot of public space to have our approaches to Islam heard and acknowledged, to be counted in all of our nuanced selves.
So much of our philosophy around creating this book was the based in the desire to approach Muslimness as a site of freedom, as a place where we can all embrace who we are as we are, and to create a space that simultaneously celebrated our identities and experiences, while creating direct links for us to talk to each other. There are over 60 writers in this book who are writing fiercely, who are unapologetically themselves, who demand that the world embrace their full humanity.
Here are just a few writers who are doing that, in no particular order, who we are grateful for:
Seam by Tarfia Faizullah
This book taught me so much about history: how it never remains in the past, how it always continues to inform and influence the present. Tarfia takes a close look at the Birangona, which means “brave women” in Bengali and refers to the two hundred thousand women who were raped and tortured by the Pakistani army during the 1971 Liberation War. Threading their stories with her own, Tarfia examines what it means to be a child of history in these incredible poems.
To Keep from Undressing by Aisha Sharif
Aisha writes with such stunning lyrical bluntness that keeps me coming back for more. This book is expansive, and topics of family, sisterhood, Islamophobia and Blackness thread seamlessly throughout the poems. There’s so much form-play in this book, and one of my favorite sequences is the “If My Parents Hadn’t Converted: Questions and Answers,” a series of questions that are answered by a bouquet of poems.
Field Theories by Samiya Bashir
There are so many worlds occuring in the poems of Samiya Bashir! I am forever floored by how Samiya’s poems turn and turn and turn, leading us to new discoveries with each and every line. This collection is an unbelievable blend of science, mythology, and folklore.
The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony by Ladan Osman
The way Ladan wields language, wields a word, makes language feel limitless. This is a collection of poems to reread forever—startling and elegant and, if you’ll forgive my use of this simplest of words, so damn interesting. Their humor, their teeth. I read these poems, I return to these poems, over and over, and feel my eyes clear.
The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan
The Twenty-Ninth Year is a recent release but already a favorite of mine. This book, filled with the tenderest of geographies, with great intimacies and great ruptures, is cinematic and gripping. I first read it in one sitting, ravenous, then flipped over and started it again.
Invasive species by Marwa Helal
This book, its poet, their identities, all burst with multitudes, with their wealth of names. Genre, race, nationality, language—the single-word answer doesn’t do justice to the nuances of the story. Marwa builds here a new kind of world, a new way of looking at form, at genre, at America—unmaking the old, expanding its possibilities and dissolving its borders until it fits us.
I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had Onby Khadijah Queen
These vivid prose poems could almost be read at first as casual, breezily and concisely collecting stories of interactions with famous men—but right below the unruffled surface is a dark, haunting meditation on sexual violence, on the kinds of casual sexual violence that stay normalized. Funny, smart, sharp, and also terrifying.