Poems shimmering with lyricism ask who can inherit a country?
2021 PEN Open Book Finalist
2021 NAACP Image Award Finalist, Poetry
2021 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize, Longlist
Dancing between lyric and narrative, Hafizah Geter's debut collection moves readers through the fraught internal and external landscapes—linguistic, cultural, racial, familial—of those whose lives are shaped and transformed by immigration. The daughter of a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist black man, Geter charts the history of a black family of mixed citizenships through poems imbued by migration, racism, queerness, loss, and the heartbreak of trying to feel at home in a country that does not recognize you. Through her mother's death and her father's illnesses, Geter weaves the natural world into the discourse of grief, human interactions, and socio-political discord. This collection thrums with authenticity and heart.
for Tamir Rice, 2002-2014
After they shot me they tackled my sister.
The sound of her knees hitting the sidewalk
made my stomach ache. It was a bad pain.
Like when you love someone
and they lie to you. Or that time Mikaela cried
all through science class and wouldn't tell anyone why.
This isn't even my first letter to you,
in the first one I told you about my room
and my favorite basketball team
and asked you to come visit me in Cleveland
or send your autograph. In the second one
I thanked you for your responsible citizenship.
I hope you are proud of me too.
Mom said you made being black beautiful again
but that was before someone killed Trayvon.
After that came a sadness so big it made everyone
look the same. It was a long time before we could
go outside again. Mr. President it took one whole day
for me to die and even though I'm twelve and not afraid of the dark
I didn't know there could be so much of it
or so many other boys here.
The Pledge • The Life of a Cell • Naming Ceremony • Fajr • The Break In• Salah • Naturalized Citizen • Hymn • Visiting Prophets • Un-American • ii.
• How to Bring Your Children to America • Testimony • Alabama Parable • Testimony • Eid al-Adha • My Brother-in-law Recites the Takbir • Testimony • Testimony • The Leaving • Family Portrait • iii. • Out of Africa • The War on Terror • The Widower • Three-Hundred Girls • How to saw a man in half • Felling • Naming My Mother • Iddah • Hajj
Born in Zaria, Nigeria, HAFIZAH GETER is an author and agent whose poetry and prose have appeared in The New Yorker, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Longreads, among others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"In Un-American, Hafizah Geter creates a new kind of portraiture. A family is slowly etched in relief in language both lush and exacting. This gorgeous debut troubles and reshapes notions of belonging against the backdrop of a country obsessed with its own exclusions, erasures, borders, institutions, and violence. Geter's poems simmer original forms of witness and resistance."~Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen
"Hafizah Geter's Un-American reads like a high lyric conversation overheard. Poem after poem, the most ordinary of items—cups, cards, couches—get ratcheted up into their proper glory. In other words, Geter sees the world as a stage set for what she needs to tell her family but can't, what she needs to hear from her family but won't. And all of this is done with attention to what this one beautiful story says about the so-called American story."~Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition
"Hafizah Geter is the kind of poet I can't do without. She questions how poetry operates in our culture and is unafraid to show us the ugly. She is committed to the public, to the way social imaginaries become real ones. It is unglamorous work and only a few poets do it on the regular, who use the title of "poet" as a vocation, as interrogator of false meritocracies, as a way to distill how racism works in our institutions."~Megan Fernandes, BOMB Magazine
"Hafizah Geter's Un-American chronicles the haunting legacies of brutal loss written in blood and memory across continents—'together, slowly domesticating / our suffering.' The poems' narrative clarity edges against exile, and in gorgeous language deliver a trenchant testimony and understanding."~Khadijah Queen, author of Anodyne
"Here is the history of this country in all its blood and complication, with all its promise and betrayal. These poems are an accounting, a testimony, a prayer—poems meant to quiet the animal inside us. A beautiful book."~Nick Flynn, author of I Will Destroy You
"This timely and powerful book speaks to the struggles on two nations, and to the grace of the invincible light of black life."~Rigoberto González
"Geter's vivid debut invokes the pain of familial dislocation, illness, and death, exacerbated by the twin plagues of xenophobia and racism It is this violence, captured in rich, musical language, that command such power."~Publishers Weekly
"In the resulting poems Geter moves through her grief while refusing ideas of whom America belongs to and who belongs in America."~Poets & Writers
"Incisive, devastating poems about what it means to be American, and who gets to be American and who doesn't."~Roxane Gay, bookshop.org