photo by katlyn benson
Jess Rizkallah's debut poetry collection is dazzling; it is cedar, resistance song, map to the winding forest of a woman's body; it is lemons and jam and knives, at once soft and firm; it is a book about familial longing, survival, love, burial, and yes, magic. So much magic. Rizkallah sings her arrival with an inner flute, and we cannot help but listen, mesmerized.
-Randa Jarrar, author of HIM, ME, MUHAMMAD ALI
Jess Rizkallah’s ambitious dance between the spoken word, or oral poetics, and the exegesis of the written give her debut collection its remarkable sheen. In her lyric, it’s hard not to marvel at the balancing act, risky at times, between the intensity of abandon and that of silence. Her poems alternate between deliberate syntactical wildness (from which a delectable ephemerality results) and stunning precision. “I was born an arm with a hand at both ends/holding a knife.” In fact, the deeper one gets into the book, the more one encounters an archeology that the poet’s brushstrokes reveal: “my thighs meet each other like a prayer. I’ve got rosary beads/where bikes would have chains.” The memorable moments are plentiful yet the poet reminds us: “these are not gifts, they’re buried artifacts.”
-Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara
Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American writer and illustrator with an MFA in poetry from New York University. She's a Kundiman fellow and founding editor at Pizza Pi Press. She's a Pushcart Prize nominated writer and spoken word poet. Expert Emotional Crier Because Whales. Official Friend To Anyone With A Story They Want To Tell About Grandparents. She makes zines and wants to read yours. She thinks third person is weird but hopes you'll forgive her.
Full length collection the magic my body becomes
out now on University of Arkansas Press.
In this debut, Jess Rizkallah explores the body, finding it a site of magic rather than memory. The speaker’s body becomes magic, seemingly out of necessity to contain her multitudes, to remember that “softness is strength, unflinching / against the knife and it is also the knife.” Mystical transformation is rendered natural. The Magic My Body Becomes allows for no denial of truth: “Why are you closing the curtain… let them stare.”
"I first say "playful" and mean the way Jess Rizkallah commands language to dance on a page with both soft humor and sharp imagery. "I want to marriage / the tallest mountain on the planet / because it's the closest one to the moon" and just like that, the moon draws itself closer to you, reader. the magic my body becomes is about family, but not only. About loneliness, but not only. About joy and home and celebration of the self, but not only. Rizkallah's best work in this debut is, in fact, the work of juggling all of who she is at once. And, even better, making room for all of us to join. This is a captivating, carefully crafted, brilliant book of poems that is a joy to experience."
- Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
“In this collection, Jess Rizkallah gives us profound tenderness, and mines from it the complexities of longing, inherited loss, and the histories that carry within them our belonging and unbelonging. Her landscapes are lush with birds and dogs and elephants, with trees and oceans and shrapnel; her speakers are tough and loving and filled with quiet humor. I cannot stress enough how important it feels, as children of parents whose worlds had to end so ours could begin, to have poets like Jess giving voice to the doubled identities we carry, the stories we grew up with and the stories we grow into. It is a joy to hold and be held by her work.”
-Safia Elhillo, author of The January Children