"Poetry is big enough to hold not only our sorrows, but our joys and our play, too."
'The Wild Fox of Yemen' is the award-winning debut poetry collection of Threa Almontaser (Malaysia, 2020/21). We caught up with Threa to learn more about the volume and her poetic craft.
When it comes to conflicts and our current uncertainties, poetry has the power to slow us down. We're always bouncing around, whether it’s physically or online. Reading and writing poetry gives us a stilled time to imagine, if only for a few important moments on a regular basis, other people's lives and perspectives.
Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” This could make all the difference, really. And poetry is big enough to hold not only our sorrows, but our joys and our play, too.
The Wild Fox of Yemen
This collection was a large chunk of my MFA thesis. I compiled all the poems and decided which felt completed and which felt like they were supposed to be a different book. I did it the old fashion way, laying all the papers on the floor and moving them around like a jigsaw puzzle until they all somehow fit into one body.
As for the message of the collection, I’d refer to what I said earlier, which is a hope that readers take a singular timeframe to really sit and put themselves into the perspective of the community I portray.
When White Boys Ask To See My Hair
My hair is not taking any visitors right now.
My hair was used as a banner on the moon.
My hair is belly-dancing on an auntie’s tabletop.
My hair fell off the long line on Mt. Everest trying to take a selfie.
My hair is flipping off an ICE raider after he barges into her favorite deli, arresting her neighbors.
My hair is Medusa’s second-cousin, the strands slithering along your throat. Avert your gaze for your own good.
My hair was captured from the exotic Manu wilderness and caged for a popular circus show.
My hair is ducking beneath a desk, trying to recall the drills, math sheets falling in a white rain.
My hair escaped an arranged marriage to sail the Red Sea with a crew of burly pirates. She is busy battling maritime brigands and trying not to get lost.
My hair is under siege in Yemen, her home recently bombed, her children buried under the rubble. I am not entirely sure if she will make it out alive.
My hair was abducted by aliens. Rumor has it they spun her into a star. That might be her there, winking down at you.
My hair was mauled on a Tanzanian Safari. I found a few leftover curls flossed between a caracal’s fangs.
My hair joined a deep rooted Bedouin tribe. She enjoys feeding nomadic camels from her palm, became the shaykh’s third wife, and sings ancient poetry into campfires. She is happy. I don’t think she is coming back.
I have a few “after” poems in the book, so definitely Natalie Diaz and Danez Smith are inspirations, but also translating the Al-Baradouni poems, which empowered and fueled my own writing in many ways, especially when I engaged with his grammar and music. Arabic, specifically in poetry, delves into new depths with language, and I tried to carry that across in my own work.
Upcoming ETA grant to Malaysia
I’m very excited for this new venture in Malaysia! I have no clue as to how it will deepen my own creative practice, but I plan to immerse myself fully and see what it fuels. I hope the experience perks my little poetry antennas up and keeps me curious, begging me to look and listen harder.
Threa Almontaser is the author of the poetry collection, THE WILD FOX OF YEMEN (Graywolf Press) selected by Harryette Mullen for the 2020 Walt Whitman Award from The Academy of American Poets. She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the National Endowment for the Arts, Tin House, and more. She earned her MFA and TESEOL certificate from North Carolina State University. When not storytelling, she attends comic conventions, speaks on community engagement panels, teaches her koi tricks, and keeps an eye out for pretty rocks. She is currently at work on her first novel. For more, please visit Threawrites.com or @threawrites on Twitter.