Two Peas in a Pod: Aria Aber Recommends

We’re pleased to present Two Peas in a Pod—a small column in which our favorite poets pair a book of poems with a book of prose. This month, poet Aria Aber shares her recommendations.

All about Love by bell hooks


A Theory of Birds by Zaina Alsous


At the moment, with the US elections looming on the horizon, I am often drawn to more theoretical writing which demands harder thinking of me than mainstream media allows; I seek out books that honor the page and simultaneously move beyond it—Zaina Alsous’s poems and bell hooks’s writing do exactly that. Social theorist and feminist bell hooks isn’t afraid to map out the spiritual failures of materialism and capitalism. In her book All About Love, she delineates how materialistic attachment and consumerism lead to a collective lovelessness inherent to our everyday lives. This nonfiction book, which falls somewhere between social theory and self-help, remains despite its publication date of 2001 a timeless feat. In fact, it’s especially acute in this political climate because hooks highlights the shortcomings and dangers of new age writers like Marianne Williamson, whose specific brand of Western pop-spirituality speaks to many yoga-worshippers among “woke” Americans today. That’s where Zaina Alsous’s poems enter—she too documents how systemic violence cannot be wished away through meditation alone: “In a segregated graveyard, no stone reads / private or public; the local jail is everywhere.” In Alsous’s taut and cerebral debut poetry collection A Theory of Birds, slated to be published this October, she weaves theory, politics and song into a beautiful web. Language here functions as abolitionist weapon against empire, as mirror to see the grief and as shelter from the helplessness of pain: “Faith was easier before sex became / involved. Who will touch me in the middle of this war.” In poems that answer to Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka, Alsous, like hooks, charts the failures of our global empire based on capitalism, warmongering and lovelessness. Though on the surface it might seem that All About Love and A Theory of Birds deal with very different topics, both writers expose with astute and crystalline sentences the intricate wounds of our socio-political system on macro- and microscopic levels, while envisioning a better future. “The practice of love offers no place of safety,” hooks writes and beckons us, like Alsous, to make ourselves vulnerable and to risk it all.


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