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This review is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

Cover of Chaos, Crossing
Ali Al-JamriWounds of Exile
Olivia Elias, Chaos, Crossing, translated from the French by Kareem James Abu-Zeid (World Poetry Books) $20
Chaos, Crossing is the first book of Olivia Elias’s poetry in English. The Palestinian poet is of the Nakba generation: born in Haifa in 1944, she was four when her family and nation were made refugees and expelled from their land. While technically a translation of her French-language 2019 collection Chaos, Traversée, the book includes two poems from her 2015 and 2017 collections and some twenty-five poems written since 2019. Elias and her translator have restructured the collection, and this edition includes the new poems in both French and English for the first time, such that there will be things here new to any French reader already familiar with Elias’s work.

The collection, arranged across four sections, takes us through visions of occupation, exile, aftermath, compassion and power. The first part is powerfully prophetic, declaiming the rage of Palestine in ‘Flames of Fire’: ‘I was born / in this / seismic time / that engulfed / even the name / of my father / and his father’s father’.

This gives way to the more dystopian second part, ushered in with ‘In the Kingdom of Bosch and Orwell’ which portrays Gaza: ‘forbidden sky / forbidden sea / no exit’. While Palestine is at the core, Elias’s compassion is not just national. ‘Mediterranean II’ takes us to Lampedusa, recalling both the Italian-run refugee camp there and the tragic and avoidable drowning of hundreds on the same-named ship Lampedusa: ‘How could I forget your oceanic / trenches now turned into cemeteries?’ Her poignant poems ‘I Say Your Name’ and ‘I Say Your, Their Names’ recall ‘George Floyd the ...

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