"E-mails from Scheherazad," by Mohja Kahf, is an excellent addition to the multiethnic body of U.S. poetry. A short bio at the end of the book notes that Kahf was born in Damascus, Syria, came to the U.S. as a child with her family, and has attained the rank of associate professor at the University of Arkansas. Kahf's poems cover a number of themes: the immigrant experience in America, cultural difference, women's issues, war, violence, and poetry itself. There are several poems that deal with the issue of the veil traditionally worn by Muslim women. A good representative poem is "My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears," a striking story of cross-cultural tension. Kahf's language is passionate, sometimes witty, and always clear and accessible. Her poems are richly spiced with many cultural references: to Wal-Mart, Robert Frost, Lt. Uhura, the "Rubayat" of Omar Khayyam, MTV, etc. She is particularly searing when reflecting on living in a post-9/11 world. Her compassionate but critical eye captures both the joy and tragedy of life. Highly recommended for college classes, book circles, or individual reading.
Mohja Kahf's poetry collection is better than prozac. Her poems link classical Arab characters with current day capitalistic trends ("Zuleika meets the Marlboro man across a delayed green"), and are punctuated, in the book's first half, with sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant Hijab Scenes, where the author encounters everyday prejudice but moves beyond self-pity and anger to humor and celebration. The result is charming and ultimately empowering. The first third of the book tells the plight of the immigrant- the Arab Muslim in particular- and uses the metaphor of landing on the moon. The second third is an ode to women and womanhood, and made me lift my head a little higher when I left the bookstore (this book under my arm.) The last third is a beautiful dialogue on political currents and events, and the poem in which Matisse characters come to life is jaw-dropping. The poetry collection offers something rare and brilliant as a stone: an intellectual journey from which one emerges with voyager dust.
This is a beautiful, moving, witty poetry collection which I recommend to all readers, and to women readers in particular. Mohja Kahf's language, her voices, her characters move seemlessly upon the page, stopping once in a while to adjust their scarves or flip us the intellectual bird. A Badass first collection; Kahf wins my vote for poet laureate.
Mohja's work is a joy to read, even when it is bringing tears to our eyes. Her impressions are unique and quirky, her use of language superb. I can't say how much I enjoyed emails. I read the entire thing in a single sitting and have returned to it many time to digest it more thoroughly. Hope to see more from this wonderful poet. Pamela