Award Winners

Norma Farber First Book Award - 2020

Zaina Alsous


After Aphrodite Desiree Navab’s Super East-West Woman

The dervish in me can’t let go of my addiction
to theory. There are so many ways to explain
the tragedy of devotion; all the names of God
held captive by I. Come inside my blue cocoon,
lavish in a curiosity the state disputes. I didn’t say
I was really about that life. I said blue, not blew.
Heaven isn’t a happy ending, you know?
Heaven is crawling inside of a mirror and redraw-
ing with obsidian edges, to kill off crystal growth.
I never wanted to be a lava angel, or a good example.
When I say home, I mean origin as a transitive verb.
When I say love, I mean these miracles are work.

A Theory of Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2019). Reprinted with the permission of the author. 

Matthew Shenoda on A Theory of Birds by Zaina Alsous (University of Arkansas Press, 2019)

In Zaina Alsous’s A Theory of Birds we are ushered into a re-calibration of the world, one intent on the eradication of that which has been oppressive and divisive. In these poems history unravels us in fragments, causing us to fold ourselves into a new definition of “self” and an unabashed rejection of our positions as “subjects.” The poems found here are an honest and open exploration of how we come into a sense of our own understanding in a postcolonial world. Alsous’s poems are driven by the asking, often posing sentient questions like “who translated kings and not birds?; questions that cause us to think of redefinition. And while her poems are searing in their critiques of political, racial, and gendered domination, like all good artists she is poignant in her ability to implicate herself at every turn and help us break through the binaries we often use to define ourselves. Hers is an aesthetic of fragmentation as a collective piecing together. A Theory of Birds teaches us that the interior narratives, the often quiet things that make each of us whole, are the most essential.