The Moon That Turns You Back


In her latest spellbinding collection of poems, The Moon That Turns You Back, Hala Alyan renders rich, intricate landscapes of heritage and place that arise from her own experiences. A Palestinian American novelist, poet and clinical psychologist, Alyan is familiar with diaspora and displacement. Born in America, she moved to Kuwait with her Palestinian father and Syrian mother, then returned to the American Midwest after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. She completed some of her education in the U.S. and some in the Middle East.

These poems reflect not only the countries that make up Alyan’s identity and history, but also the range of cultural ideals and differences that exist within that history, exploring the perspectives of family members such as her maternal grandmother and her mother. Alyan’s poetry draws the reader in through form, including interactive poems styled in a choose-your-own-adventure format.

Alyan tackles complex, even disturbing, topics. She writes of everyday objects using striking, vivid descriptions: “underwear the color of the summer, of the ocean, of the dead.” “In Jerusalem” employs the recurring image of a woman’s hair. It’s sensual, feminine and powerful, but it can also render the speaker vulnerable: “In Jerusalem a man blocked the door of a hostel // to tell me to unpin my hair. I did, / but then kept the story from anyone for years.”

While her succinct and candid language, arresting imagery and bold approach to form are effectively disquieting, there is also a very organic sense of hope and renewal in these poems, even in the darkest hour. There’s a hint of this in the titular line from, “Interactive Fiction :: Werewolf,” where Alyan writes: “In the / darkest dark, I wait for / the / moon // that turns you back.”

The Moon That Turns You Back is a bountiful collection of poetry, especially for those interested in diaspora and the complexity of multinationalism.

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