Stephen Watts reviews Sand Opera by Philip Metres Alice James Books, Maine, USA, 2015 ISBN: 978-1-938584-09-1, pbk, 113pp, $16.95 / £11.39
Poetry “baptised into this unhappiness”
Sand Opera – as the poet says in his endnotes and it is worth simply quoting them – “began out of the vertigo of feeling unheard as an Arab American in the decade after the terrorist attacks of 2001 . . . After 9/11, I found myself split – between my American upbringing and my Arab roots, between raising young children and witnessing the War on Terror abroad. I continue to ask myself what it means to be a human being – and what it means to rear vulnerable creatures – in a world where humans seem hellbent on violence, using ‘defense’ and ‘security’ as alibis for domination and revenge.” The title of course alludes to what has been happening in desert zones, to music and what had been made, but equally to operations in a military sense and to excising, scratching away, to paring down as the best poetry does, but also to the blocking acts of censorship. Lines in the text are blacked out just as letters from prisons always have been and the title page and indeed the title itself is a reduction to ‘Sand Opera’ from ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ in a direct collusion of that political act into poetry’s language. The contaminations of politics are undermined as far as is linguistically possible but the poet, vitally, does not contaminate the integrities of his text.
The book opens with an ‘illumination’ and closes with a compline but is essentially structured by five sections: ‘abu ghraib arias’, ‘first recitative’, ‘hung lyres’, ‘second recitative’, ‘home-front/removes’. He deploys much-needed techniques of experimental poetry to di-
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