The Twenty-Ninth Year
Twenty-nine is a year of transformation and upheaval, a year in which the past—memories of family members, old friends and past lovers, the heat of another land, another language, a different faith—winds itself around the present. Hala’s ever-shifting, subversive verse sifts together and through different forms of forced displacement and the tolls they take on mind and body. Poems leap from war-torn cities in the Middle East, to an Oklahoma Olive Garden, a Brooklyn brownstone; from alcoholism to recovery; from a single woman to a wife. This collection summons breathtaking chaos, one that seeps into the bones of these odes, the shape of these elegies.
A vivid catalog of heartache, loneliness, love and joy, The Twenty-Ninth Year is an education in looking for home and self in the space between disparate identities.
“Mapping a year of change, Hala Alyan uses wit, metaphor, and powerful imagery in this collection of deeply intimate and truth-telling poems. Her words brave through gender, love, marriage, family, and displacement. They unsettle the hyphen between Palestinian and American. These stunning poems endure the unendurable, illuminating both the powerlessness of pain and the relentless courage of love. Listen for her lyrical heart: letters, prayers, and portraits. Listen for what overlooks and fires free.”
– Aja Monet, author of My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter
“Early in The Twenty-Ninth Year Hala Alyan asks, ‘See that eye? Ask it to love you.’ With this, she initiates us into one of the poet’s great questions—how do we, having sounded our murkiest most private psychic waters, still look on ourselves with compassion? How do we ask a sky, a god, a nation, a parent, or a lover to cherish us, knowing all they know about our myriad brilliant failings? ‘In the end, we remake love over and over’—this is the work. Alyan picks up the fragments of a broken past and reassembles them into a livable future made more dazzling for having known brokenness. This is poetry of the highest order.”
– Kaveh Akbar, author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf and Portrait of the Alcoholic
“Every twenty-nine years Saturn’s in the same position it was in when you were born, often leading to periods of wild flux, transition, and transformation. Hala Alyan’s new book renders in lyric form precisely this kind of reckoning. The Twenty-Ninth Year leaps through time and geography cataloging and archiving snapshots of heartbreak, political violence and resistance, addiction, lust, betrayal, migration, and marriage. Lines such as, ‘exile knows his bones are 206 instruments’ will convince any living reader to immediately go get them tattooed to their ribs. This book is a tongue kiss between the sacred & the profane. This book’s essential reading for anyone with a pulse in their veins.”
– Sam Sax, author of Madness and Bury It
“It’s a kind of heaven, The Twenty-Ninth Year, and a kind of hell. When an ex-alcoholic, ex-anorexic breaks the piñata of self open, what falls to earth is mooncakes, sponge cake, lopsided cake, the prettiest cake, pommes frites, waffles, warm bread, donuts, donut peaches, plums, prickly pears, Seven persimmons, first carrot in snow, organic kale, a plate of lobster, a house whiskey on ice, cider, cocktails, wine, and a halo of spaghetti. The word love appears 51 times. Drunk on language, feasting on experience, the poet eats her words without regret, in search of safety, in search of who she’ll be next.”
– Jennifer Tseng, author of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness and The Passion of Woo and Isolde
“Hala Alyan’s The Twenty-Ninth Year dramatizes the long journey toward home in poems that vibrate with eros and suffering, with longing and despair. On the cusp of her thirtieth year, that modern marker of maturity, Alyan, like other courageous confessional poets, brings darkness to light: anorexia, alcoholism, addiction, self-loathing. Yet Alyan’s is a poetry of radical hope: that we enter into our wounds in order to emerge from exile.”
– Philip Metres, author of Sand Opera and The Sound of Listening
“Hala Alyan’s The Twenty-Ninth Year has the hodgepodge beauty and intimacy of a Japanese court poet’s pillow book and dazzles like a passport brimming with the stamps of many places. While her previous volume, Hijra, was mythic, spare, and gorgeously imagistic, this new work has a glorious close-to-the-bone, cinéma-vérité feel; in depicting the rollercoaster ride of exile and nonstop adaptation to new worlds, the speaker is both a clear-eyed, freewheeling daughter of the Arab diaspora and an ecstatic, risk-taking celebrant of life.”
–Cyrus Cassells, author of The Gospel according to Wild Indigo and The Crossed-Out Swastika