The world's crying wolf when the words from a musical memory muscle through heartbreak and Middle Eastern melancholy before something sensational occurs: a compelling fresh poetic voice materializes. Hala Alyan's Four Cities is a powerful reflection of a perception only seen from foreign skies. It somehow interweaves punk rock romanticism with a soft touch of bluegrass sensibilities (think Patti Smith with a touch of Old Crow Medicine Show). Her firecracker point of view radiates like Fourth of July on LSD. There is a lyrical sentimentality that shines sunlight over shadows. There is also tenderness in some passages where apathy would normally preside. Her poetical politics are worth every poignant line. "Sestina for December" reads like Parker prose but shines like a youthful Etal Adnan.
In the poem "Anne," a beautiful lament on the loneliness of time passing by, she painlessly rolls through lines brought together by chaos and love:
Even Jericho had me reading your orphan poems.
The sky’s throat—
everycolor blue and a watercolor heart.
Lovely I unloved the cliffs, unpeeled a dress.
The alliterations run from the tongue like memories of childhood waterslides, slowly building up to what’s thought to be a probable problematic conclusion only to twist at the end to leave one gasping for one more run to the top: “You are edible, dear, / As hopelessly female as the moon.”
In the prose poem "Attic’s Window," Alyan melodically transcends us into a realm of conscientious shifting in a fall through place and time seen through the speaker from a window on a traveling bus:
shoreline, the hills flung with citadels. On the bus a man
sings Oum Kalthoum and the I am thinking of New Zealand,
of how the water must be cold on his shoulders now,
and how love can be a punishment for the gluttony
The passing of the baton through each scene is not an innovative trope, however, what Alyan does with her voice can’t be emulated by even the most exceptional of wordsmiths.
I was surprised by both the genuine nature of each poem as well as the songlike rhythm to her line breaks. Alyan is a poet taken charge of the landscape and making sure everyone around her knows that she can be up on her high-rise balcony overlooking the theatrics of her four cities, but never insinuating condescension because her perception is that of poetic praise.
This collection of poetry insightfully illustrates life's aesthetic allure. Even in the most heartbreaking of poems there is tranquility found in the dimmest of settings. Her vast array of foreign landscapes are so elegantly depicted that they make war torn countries seem like perfect screensavers. I recommend Four Cities to anyone looking for an original voice.