A promising debut work from a young poet and a valuable reminder of the glories of Islamic culture.
At 28, Albaba can already boast of a full life. He’s lived in three countries (Syria, Saudi Arabia and Canada), mastered multiple languages, and has two computer science degrees. And if that weren’t enough, he’s published his first book of poetry in English. However, to call it merely a collection of poetry (or “divan”) is to underestimate its lofty aspirations, which include introducing readers to Arabic and Islamic cultures. With these goals in mind, the author opens each of the 20 poems with a preface that situates it within Islamic history or his own fascinating life. All the introductions, in unpretentious prose, helpfully introduce non-Muslim readers to the beauty, depth and complexity of Muslim literature and lore. Perhaps the book’s only failing is that the prefaces are sometimes more compelling than the verses that follow them. Like many young poets, Albaba frequently uses end-rhymes to structure his works. However, his over-reliance on them can make his language feel stilted. More than once, he presents a poem in monorhyme—in which the last word of each line rhymes with all the rest. Hence, “The Sun that Never Sets,” an ode to the Prophet Muhammad, features off-kilter lines such as, “In mercy, love, and tolerance you are the greatest instance,” “When allurement intensifies and becomes within striking distance” and “ As [my parents] sacrifice for me and were the reason behind my nascence.” Such awkward usage results less from the author’s newness to the language—which he humbly admits—than from the fact that his structure forces him to come up with 18 other words that rhyme with the word “guidance.” No poet should have to do so much.
An often satisfying mix of poetry, religion and history.