There are lots of reasons to read this issue, but here’s what you won’t want to miss: poet Khaled Mattawa, author of four books of poems (one forthcoming from New Issues Press) introduces and translates the poems of Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser (now based in London). The translations are lovely, fluid, authentic, and credible. Nasser’s poems are marvelous, deceptively simple and incredibly powerful in a subtle and lyrical way, as in this excerpt from “Once Upon an Evening in a Café”:
When your thoughts
do not take you far
and you’re silent
as you tremble
at the trellises of your hands,
when the cart of your daydreams
does not lead you into tunnels
lit with apprehensions
as you remain silent
or this poem “Song”:
Blood in school books,
blood in the first note
of the royal anthem,
blood in the military academies
climbing the minarets.
Even on the arc of the crescent moon there is blood.
In the slopes of the seven mountains, blood
Blood between the trees and their bark,
Between our lips and our song of praise.
Mattaway says that Nasser “deserves attention,” and I couldn’t agree more. These beautiful poems are well accompanied by poems by Heather Kirn (“Mini Cities” – “Find the worlds in worlds”) and a marvelous story by Corinna Vallianatos, “Privations,” which begins: “The lily pads are gone, gone, and this is less a worry than a verdict: sad.” “The Shaman of Ice Cream” by Sherman Alexie (a clever re-interpretation of Stevens) and Pablo Medina’s “The Food of the Gods” are equally compelling, with their own startling verdicts: “The end is cornmeal and okra, gummy and hot, / in the forest, in the open field / in the sea that goes forever / deep into the dark of things.”). And cover artist Kazuko Watanabe’s etchings, well reproduced, are refined and lovely.