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Bitter English

Imagine you are a Palestinian who came to America as a young man, eventually finding yourself caught between the country you live in with your wife and daughter, and the home—and parents—you left behind. Imagine living every day in your nonnative language and becoming estranged from your native tongue, which you use less and less as you become more ensconced in the United States. This is the story told by Ahmad Almallah in Bitter English, an autobiography-in-verse that explores the central role language plays in how we construct our identities and how our cultures construct them for us.
 
Through finely crafted poems that utilize a plainspoken roughness to keep the reader slightly disoriented, Almallah replicates his own verbal and cultural experience of existing between languages and societies. There is a sense of displacement to these poems as Almallah recounts the amusing, sad, and perilous moments of day-to-day living in exile. At the heart of Bitter English is a sense of loss, both of home and of his mother, whose struggle with Alzheimer’s becomes a reflection of his own reality in exile. Filled with wit, humor, and sharp observations of the world, Bitter English brings a fresh poetic voice to the American immigrant experience.

96 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Phoenix Poets

Poetry

Reviews

"Finely crafted debut collection . . . . From his citizenship interview to a final meditation on the past as he asks his daughter to repeat her sentences in Arabic, Almallah’s poetry-cum-memoir doesn’t shout but with pointed, persistent, limpid lines minimized to the very essence sums up loss and fractured identity as sharply as any jeremiad."

Library Journal

"Almallah explores the themes of family, home and identity in fluid language. The free verse of the poems allows for a deeper exploration of the construction of culture. . . . In accessible verse, Bitter English brings to the forefront the displacement in every aspect of the immigrant experience, and Almallah's distinctive voice manages to put this ineffable experience into words."

Shelf Awareness

"The poems in Ahmad Almallah’s debut collection, Bitter English, relate the story of a Palestinian man who, having immigrated to America in his youth, finds himself torn between his life in the United States and the family and language he left behind. . . . That’s the great contribution that Bitter English offers to our moment: Almallah knows that great poems are often made by the poet’s integration of two seemingly inharmonious ideas or tendencies. Throughout his collection, such challenging doubleness appears in the recurring image of the man with two passports. It also makes for tonal dualities."

Public Books

"When Ahmad Almallah’s debut collection, Bitter English, came out in 2019, a new planet swam into the ken of contemporary poetry. Here was a poet like no other. The poems in Bitter English relate the narrative of a Palestinian man who finds himself wrenched between his life in the United States and his place, family, and language of origin. With remarkable lyric intensity, Almallah makes art out of a discontentment with language itself."

Great River Review

“Ahmad Almallah’s Bitter English is a book of prismatic pulsations writ against moving backgrounds. These counterpaeans are balm to the exiled and grieving—and to all of us newly arriving.”

Charles Bernstein, author of Near/Miss

“Almallah is a true original, apparent from the first time I heard him read a poem aloud, years ago. As a follower of his terrific work, I am delighted to see it brought together in Bitter English. His poetry, both fresh and frank, entrances readers through astonishing, breathtaking ways of unfolding. Almallah’s writing is immensely relevant; we need his voice."

Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle

“‘I wanted to write a love poem but instead / I watched the news’ begins a poem in Ahmad Almallah’s wrenching collection, in which the news is terrible, the familiar is inscrutable, and the structures—of language, home, disaster, family, citizenship, consciousness—are broken. With grief, rage, and a fierce love, Almallah dares himself to imagine with ‘this english tongue I use’—in line waiting for stamps or recycling plastics—and what harrowing poems his bitter English has wrought.”

Donna Masini, author of 4:30 Movie

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Bitter English

I. Rites of Passage

Citizenship Interview
Jisr
Map

II. House

Pictures
The House
Lines of Return
House Cleaning
The Hunt, a Home
The House, Searched
The Bookcase

III. Mother in Between

Matters of Light, Fog, and Sometimes Smoke
Pontificate
Chronology
Recycling
Into His Own

IV. Dirty Underworld

Grand
Prayer 
Anniversary
Love Poem
At the Farmers’ Market
At the Post Office
Five Hours, an Autobiography
Malmoum

Epilogue: Another Tongue Sustains You

Notes

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