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Tocqueville (New Issues Poetry & Prose) Paperback – April 5, 2010
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Tocqueville names the names, walks the walk, and definitely talks the talk. Here's a book of marvelous poems for our times; its textured complexity radiates and sings. --Yusef Komunyakaa
Tocqueville, living up to the truthful irony implicit in its title, is politically astute, formally daring, grips the reader with an intelligence that spotlights, too, its sensual and emotional (and historical) accuracy. --Marilyn Hacker
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Khaled Mattawa's Tocqueville
New Issues: Kalamazoo, MI, 2010. 72 pages. $15.00.
Khaled Mattawa's fourth collection of poetry, Tocqueville, answers to its title, bearing witness to consequences of US foreign and domestic policy. The endeavor is "enough to turn a reporter into a novelist, / and the novelist toward myth for rescue / and the poet running toward the white heat of his soul / fed on the fuel of indignation." Tocqueville journeys within and beyond American borders, its setting the years of the US war on Iraq--a world in which technological advancement and media sophistication have become atrocities of shock and awe. Mattawa's poems bring us a Chevron tanker named for Condoleezza Rice, Somalian war stories, Vietnamese sweatshops, child pornography, torture, suicide bombers, "Abel's / blood streaming endless from your veins."
Formally, the poems in Tocqueville range from lyric prose to PowerPoint presentations, documentary film scripts, and conversations with a shrink. Mattawa's lenses pan over, click through, devastating historical and political content, but seek out the individual: "The village women carry the moon on their heads. // Each carrying a piece. // Or each carrying her own moon." He joins a rigorously nuanced political vision with a lyrical mythos, a sense of "a world now, a world then." The final poem, "Before," insists, "Somewhere beyond faith and grace there is / the footprint of logic lost in the purest light," and the collection frequently finds the classical in the contemporary. Even in many of the poems' dense, wide-ranging experimentation--complete with matrices and graphics--Mattawa foregrounds the continuity between the present-day political world and the mythic.Read more ›
Tocqueville, the new collection from Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa, designates itself as the missive of a bold, cultural diplomat; tackling uniquely Western concepts and queries with a uniquely foreign-born mind-set and sensibility. Much like the figure his title pays homage to, he observes this new world as an outsider, bringing order to the strange and self-contradictory whole of Western culture. And, on the whole, it succeeds.
What begins as a delicate collection with the gentle, enchanting first poem, "Lyric", quickly become pointed and savage with the sharp "Ecclesiastes"; much of the book continues on in this pattern. "Ecclesiastes" is a particularly strong, moving indictment of our culture; riffing off of the series of biblical platitudes by pointing out the dark, capitalistic tricks that could exploit those who believe in them. An example: "The rule is you don't care if they find it/ The trick is that they feel they can." Mattawa is wildly inventive and subversive; pointing out cruel parallels and interesting anomalies that lurk around us all.
One of his more interesting constructions are his "Power Points," which incorporate various conventions of story-telling and illustration (ranging from film script layout to elaborate charts) that mathematicize and exfoliate moral dilemmas and wrong-doings. His diction is often astonishing. Mattawa has an eye for truly stunning, well-phrase imagery, which shines in "Power Point 1," as he speaks of "a catharsis that hurls us screaming unto the street, our faces coated with history."
While on the whole consistent in high caliber, challenging poetry, Mattawa very occasionally oversteps into trenches of pure, non-poetic rhetoric, which is jarring but doesn't over-power the potency of the work as a whole.Read more ›