A selection of luminous, fiercely intelligent verse from Egypt’s premier poet.
Iman Mersal is Egypt’s—indeed, the Arab world’s—great outsider poet. Over the past three decades, she has crafted a voice that is ferocious and tender, street-smart and vulnerable. Her early work captures the energies of Cairo’s legendary literary bohème, a home for “Lovers of cheap weed and awkward confessions / Anti-State agitators” and “People like me.” These are poems of wit and rage, freaked by moments of sudden beauty, like “the smell of guava” mysteriously wafting through the City of the Dead. Other poems bear witness to agonizing loss and erotic temptation, “the breath of two bodies that never had enough time / and so took pleasure in their mounting terror.” Mersal’s most recent work illuminates the trials of displacement and migration, as well as the risks of crossing boundaries, personal and political, in literature and in life.
The Threshold gathers poems from Mersal’s first four collections of poetry: A Dark Alley Suitable for Dance Lessons (1995), Walking as Long as Possible (1997), Alternative Geography (2006), and Until I Give Up the Idea of Home (2013). Taken together, these works chart a poetic itinerary from defiance and antagonism to the establishment of a new, self-created sensibility. At their center is the poet: indefatigably intelligent, funny, flawed, and impossible to pin down. As she writes, “I’m pretty sure / my self-exposures / are for me to hide behind.”