Osmani turns to poetry in trying to explain what it’s like to be a Muslim in America during the era of the war on terror.
For starters, the answer to the question posed in Osmani’s title is “no.” But it’s a question that is perhaps asked too frequently in and around Illinois, where the author, a practicing Muslim, lives. Which is why Osmani has put pen to paper—to express his feelings and frustrations as a member of a religious minority who is occasionally persecuted and frequently misunderstood. Thus, in “Profiling a Screen,” he describes the apprehension he feels every time he walks through airport security. In “I Before US,” he voices his frustration at what he perceives to be the overwhelming influence wielded by pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington. And in “Fun, Not Very Funny,” he pithily explains what it’s like to avoid drinking, smoking and gambling around people who do all these things. Other entries stray further from the central theme, among them a verse critique of Dubai’s tallest building, a piece on crowd response to the funeral of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and an unexpected comparison of President Barack Obama to the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Osmani’s poetry is accessible but brief. No poem runs more than one page, and many don’t get past a second stanza. It’s to his credit that he’s able to develop some complex insights in such a restricted space. There’s surprisingly little poetry in this poetry collection, however. Along with each poem, Osmani includes a few paragraphs of prose explaining its meaning and—more strangely—web comments from the poems’ previous existence online. The web comments are by turns distracting, repetitive or totally insubstantial, and they probably have no place here. The presence of the prose descriptions is more understandable but likely unnecessary. T.S. Eliot was often criticized for adding his own explanatory notes to The Waste Land; let the poems speak for themselves, his critics said. Perhaps we might say the same to Osmani.
Competent, unique verse, but not enough of it.