40 poems and 2 hours of my life later, I had been teleported to Beirut. I walked down the streets of a city I had never been to physically, as Zeina Hesham Beck spinned her words. One could say, to read To Live in Autumn is to experience Beirut. But I would to add to that; it is to familiarize oneself with the intimacy of life in an old city; teeming with history, the lives of its people caught in-between the Arab Spring and the winds of the wistful autumn. I travelled all over the city with Zeina, she showed me around like one introduces you to one’s family. Every family has a grandmother, a lonely aunt, naughty cousins just as every historical city comes with it’s set of characters. Zeina wrote them to life with a lucidity that made my heart pound with emotion, fear and hope.
The book is divided into five sections and it begins with the architectural romanticism of Lebanon’s capital and then continues onto one of my favorite sections the one about the characters. Ali, Souad, Afif and a whole gamet of emotions, lives and stories.
The third section is possibly the most emotional, because it plays with the revolution as background music. It speaks of hope, love and despair that one only understands when life is threatened, when homes are threatened; families are left vulnerable.
“That blood is red,
like you expected,
and that it scares you.
That fear upon fear upon fear
upon fear upon fear finally
Then the book travels, poems take you through time, present becomes future and eventually turns into the past. Memories are remembered; parties, balconies, dances, rain and youth. And then the final poem, the one that speaks of longing, exile and guilt.
“I hear Hamra is not the same anymore: Syrian refugees on the streets, men begging, children selling roses, selling roses, why are the doomed always selling roses?”
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her first poetry collection, To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), won the 2013 Backwaters Prize, judged by poet Lola Haskins, was a runner up for the Julie Suk Award, and has been included on Split This Rock’s list of recommended poetry books for 2014. She’s been nominated for two Pushcart prizes, and her poems have been published in Ploughshares, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, The Common, Rattle, Tampa Review, Cream City Review, Quiddity, Copper Nickel, Mizna, Sukoon, and Mslexia, among others. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Dubai, where she regularly performs her poetry and runs poetry workshops. Zeina is the founder of PUNCH, a Dubai-based poetry and open mic collective, for which she hosts monthly readings. She’s on the editorial board of All Roads Will Lead You Home, a new online literary journal by VAC poetry.
You can contact Zeina on firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@zeinabeck).