These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit
A thoughtful new collection of poems, one that deconstructs the deceptively simple question of what it means to be good—a good person, a good citizen, a good teacher, a good poet, a good father.
With These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit, Hayan Charara presents readers with a medley of ambitious analyses, written in characteristically wry verse. He takes philosophers to task, jousts with academics, and scrutinizes hollow gestures of empathy, exposing the dangers of thinking ourselves “separate / from [our] thoughts and experiences.” After all, “No work of love / will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart.” But how do we act on fullness of heart? How, knowing as we do that “genocide is inscribed in our earliest and holiest texts”?
Thoughtful but never preachy, Charara sits beside us, granting us access to life’s countless unglamorous dilemmas: crushing a spider when we promised we wouldn’t, nearing madness from a newborn’s weeping, resenting our lovers for what happened in a dream. “Good poems demand to be written from inside the poet,” we are reminded. And that is where we find ourselves here: inside a lively and ethical mind, entertained by Charara’s good company even as goodness challenges us to do more.
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Praise and Prizes
“[Charara] is a multifaceted writer, equally comfortable in the long, languid line and the short poem, terse and biting. His fourth poetry collection, These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit, shows off his range . . . Charara offers few answers but insists the questions themselves are worthwhile.”
“Whether chronicling Arab American experiences of discrimination or relating uncomfortable episodes in a marriage, these poems favor an honesty that will elicit laughter if it doesn't make one cry . . . These surprising and transgressive poems confront the everyday contradictions of living with equal parts biting insight and grace.”
“Politics, philosophy, and what it means to live in America are all themes that are highlighted and pulled apart . . . Charara both turns away from traditions and keeps to them, making for many unexpected moments . . . A powerful and impactful collection.”
“Charara’s experience in life and as a poet (with three other collections to his name) gives his book a “wise elder” tone — not weighty, per se, but mature, with a casual, self-deprecating humor and ruminations on age, along with a well-earned weariness over the terrible cruelties we inflict on each other.”
“Strange and dazzling . . . You can almost see the mind leaping from lilypad to lilypad, each transition both an outgrowth of the previous sentence and yet also deliciously surprising.”
“[Charara's] poetry is plainspoken and accessible, yet as deep and evocative as any of the best contemporary poetry, rewarding repeated readings with new and deeper insights.”
“This entire collection dances between the direct and the subtle, at once using language that is both unflinching and delicate, both emphatic yet restrained. These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit is a complex and stunning collection that exemplifies Charara's incredible ability to write about life's complexities with grace and curiosity.”
“Reading Hayan Charara’s These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit, I kept thinking of a line from Gwendolyn Brooks: ‘A man must bring / To music what his mother spanked him for / When he was two.’ Charara’s music is undeniable. His searching lyric, which has been a lodestar for me over the years, crescendos here at dazzling new heights. A man has a hotel liaison with an ex-wife, tries to quit smoking. Across the ocean, vegetables grow over windowsills while children looking for candy are picked off by snipers. The dailiness of each astounds—as in the world, so in these poems. Charara isn’t afraid to say it plain: ‘We live at the pleasure of people with enormous power / and very little compassion.’ That’s what awes me most about Charara’s work, his ability to sing the difficult thing with real clarity: ‘The mantra today the same as yesterday. / We must become different.’”
“Hayan Charara’s These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit is both lushly transcendental and companionable, imbuing the cathedral on fire, the match that set the fire, and the spiders under the pews, with an equal measure of significance and holiness. Charara has developed a level of mastery—in life and in poetry—that allows him to shift from litany to epic to haiku sequence to elegy to hybrid prose, from the enigmatic to the declarative, the tragic to comic, from Lebanon to Detroit, with agility, clear in his judgments (‘I’d much prefer spending an afternoon / with a bunch of jockeys or car mechanics than with philosophers’) and steadfast in his global and personal rage and grief. ‘Every seed a heart, every heart / a minefield,’ he writes. In this way, Charara’s astonishing collection defies easy dualisms and locates the source of love and violence in these, those, this, and that—and in ourselves.”
“Hayan Charara’s These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit repeatedly and revealingly places the present beside the historical, the self beside the other, and the basic impulse to possess and preserve beside the inescapability of loss. The poems are simultaneously erudite and plainspoken; at times they are unflinching in their considerations of violence and history, while elsewhere they are playful and even laugh-out-loud funny. Always, they see the totality of the human condition, which, when viewed both up close and from a great distance, is, in Charara’s words, ‘a composite / of violence, vengeance, and theft, / ingenuity, too, and forms of love unique / to men and women, the only species / that knows, consciously, what others of its kind / thought and did thousands of years before.’ This is among the very best books of poems I’ve read in years.”