A Strange Liminal Area: George Abraham’s The Specimen’s Apology
To call George Abraham’s work formidable can be a gross understatement. The premise of their latest chapbook, The Specimen’s Apology, appears almost absurd when simplified: an exploration of queer Palestinian id, mental illness, and the inherited trauma of diaspora, via the lens of topology, quantum mechanics, and the online game Bioshock: Infinite. What they create in the area between these disparate concepts, nevertheless, is a posh, progressive, and artistically inquisitive collection of poems, each of which delivers an abundance of surprise and bewilderment.
In one poem, they fracture a word across the road break to create “an infinity: of dim / -ensions: & impossible: bloodlines.” In another, they ask of the reader, “ i mean, / what is colonization ___if not an aftermath _____of hands, / of men _____searching for home?”
Abraham has an unimaginable knack for conveying troublesome, nuanced ideas in precise, uncomplicated language, which propels their intricately crafted poems forward.
Though The Specimen’s Apology might stand on the benefit of the individual poems alone, it’s the deep thematic interconnectivity of the poems that elevates this chapbook to brilliance. When Abraham says, in the introduction to the chapbook’s framework, “This is a history of parallel bodies,” what he means is that his physique and the physique of Elizabeth—a personality from Bioshock: Infinite who “has the power to open holes in the space-time continuum and travel between parallel universes”—are one and the same. Both are struck-through in the titles of their poems, “palestinian/queer” and “Elizabeth,” every turning into the titular “specimen.” This situates the subject of these poems in a wierd liminal area, between reality and fiction, between gendered spaces, and between dual histories of abuse and trauma.
The works contained within The Specimen’s Apology are a lush and sprawling collection of overlapping parallel universes during which Abraham is consistently innovating and abandoning types. Each formal experiment is a short lived hole into a brand new world that opens, then collapses, behind the reader. This creates inside the chapbook a shifting, fractious landscape the place its writer’s interdisciplinary work as a PhD in bioengineering shines via. Within the opening third of this collection, one after another, they introduce a poem constructed around oppositional binary techniques contained by parenthesis—“[male/female],” “[conflict/occupation],” “[terrorist/freedom-fighter]”—another poem which uses type of an educational symposium to discover the racist dimensions of scientific research and the impossibility of “apolitical” science, and a third which employs algebraic topology to outline the structure of the speaker’s trauma.
While, in the palms of a special poet, this could all show extraordinarily formidable to the reader, Abraham wields these excessive concepts with unimaginable grace and trust of their viewers. And that viewers is rewarded by immersion within the unique language and logic of this work. Few poets can slip strains like
the love that turns
__________________2 mirrors in on themselves,
unraveling those infinite & countable dimensions;
_______somewhere, i pluck an apple ____________& a parallel self suffers
if want is,
as my language translates, a moon,
let this body be the satellite
who discovered its personal escape velocity,…
with no sense of artifice surrounding their language.
The formal issues of this collection not solely draw on Abraham’s educational background, however typically literalize the tense intersection of politicized queer and Palestinian id. “ars poetica in which every pronoun is a Free Palestine” brilliantly explores this conflict in the face of Israeli settler-colonialism which weaponizes its progressive stance on queerness whereas erasing the presence of queerness among these they oppress:
no, FREE PALESTINE will never give FREE PALESTINE’s self a name
not rooted in upheaval—FREE PALESTINE, hyphenated by settler flag:
FREE PALESTINE hyphenated by settler pronouns: FREE PALESTINE won’t
pledge allegiance to Arabic. or English. FREE PALESTINE will exist
in no language.
Though The Specimen’s Apology is full of Abraham’s own improvements, it also wears their formal influences on its sleeve, notably the work of Marwa Helal. The collection of “Maqam for Moonlight” poems—which take their identify from an Arabic phrase actually which means “the place where one stands,” and which has come to mean each music and a burial shrine,—utilize a variation on the Arabic. This can be a poetic type that Helal innovated with “Poem to be Read from Right to Left,” which buildings English within the studying order of Arabic, forcing readers to think about the Eurocentric mode during which they eat poetry.
This sequence of poems also attracts from a lineage of different Arab poets who’ve written in the type of maqams, similar to Zeina Hashem Beck and Fady Joudah. Abraham’s use of this manner demands a heightened degree of engagement with the text, because the reader slows to course of the content material and strange musicality of phrases like:
a ask to— ___blood of conjuring a is want of know i what
&______ sweat its in humid__ listless it was or ___me of nation tired
—deviance quantum &___ stochasticity personal its in__ misplaced ___: entropy
.carries it __blood the hence & __design its by means of thing a reputation to discovered we
It’s, in fact, unattainable to speak about this chapbook without discussing the illustrations that Abraham’s poems are positioned in dialog with, offered by graphic novelist Leila Abdelrazaq. Her illustrations are haunting and ethereal, yet typically grounded in the violence skilled by the bodies inside them. Every image can also be steeped in the iconography of Palestinian resistance, with many photographs, including the keffiyeh (a chequered black and white scarf traditionally work by Palestinian farmers), the Arabian gazelle, and Palestinian rock-thrower, repeated all through.
One notably putting image depicts the silhouette of a Palestinian protester hurling a stone as a bullet strikes them, then collapsing into the filth and rising once more beneath it, the bullet still held inside them. The type of this piece gestures towards the famous illustration by Rudolph Zallinger, “The Road to Homo Sapiens,” that adorns the pages of most biology textbooks, a picture that is typically incorrectly titled as “The March to Progress.”
Abdelrazaq appears keenly conscious of this picture’s history as she locations it towards the history of Palestinian protesters murdered by the IDF. The march toward progress that she depicts is one among resistance that survives the violence of settler-colonial oppression, however carries ahead the reminiscence of this oppression with each era and resurrection.
This concept of resurrection and remaking additionally threads collectively the visible narrative that she creates. The moon is an omnipresent determine all through, appearing over the fields of Palestine in a single picture, the sample of cracked dust blooming into the threads of a keffiyeh because it approaches the sky, and then in another as the afro of a protester whose picture is repeated throughout the remainder of the ebook on pro-Palestine agit-prop posters.
Similarly, The Specimen’s Apology orbits round questions of trauma, memory, oppression, and the way we move past it. By means of the conflation of their very own experiences as a queer member of the Palestinian diaspora with these of Elizabeth, who kills her oppressive captor, Abraham gestures towards a theoretical future through which, by means of violence, they will
escape… the massacre of [them]
-self; ma[k]e all of the
crucial wounds to get
but questions on the similar time:
isn’t this probably the most graceless
suicide; to escape not solely
the body, but the historical past
it was born into—.
Across the collection, Abraham charts multiple intersecting personal, historic, familial, and fictional narratives. These weave together and collide, however never quite coalesce into a single thread. The ultimate poem in The Specimen’s Apology, “Post-Script: Against Consolidation,” addresses this collision immediately, offering—in some sense—a thesis for the intersection of those stories: “perhaps, since this is a poem about memory, it is discontinuous by necessity; there are / hands, hence there will always be breakage—” However even because the speaker fights towards this discontinuity, the narrative fractures apart,
i began this poem___ __THE SYSTEM DOES NOT CONVERGE with blueberries
with muscle reminiscence __THE SYSTEM DOES NOT CONVERGE ___& arms—
___________________________(or perhaps i never had control
_____________________________________________over the narrative—),…
until it is totally consumed by the phrase “THE SYSTEM FAILS TO CONVERGE.”
If consolidation isn’t solely a gathering together of disparate elements into a singular physique, but in addition “the process of stabilization from short to long-term memory,” then maybe it isn’t simply this last poem, but the entirety of Abraham’s chapbook that resists consolidation. These poems refuse to be lowered or simplified, and include inside them collection of private and cultural wounds that are reopened many times. A trauma that rests in the perpetual current, never far sufficient removed to consolidate into the space of time.