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Brave New Words–and Cartoons, Stencils and Graffiti–Come Together in “Syria Speaks”

Homs is more important than Troy,” poet Aboud Saeed tells his mother in the penultimate section of Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline.

She thinks he’s kidding, and the fact that he’s not is precisely the point—not only of Saeed’s tenderly satirical work, but of the book as a whole. The expansive new anthology, released today by Saqi Books, compiles pieces by over 50 artists and writers as a “testament to the courage, creativity and imagination of the Syrian people”.

As much as it pays homage to their choice to value their own voices, it also bears witness to the power of mutual support. Many of the pieces presented are created by collectives, from the YouTube puppeteers of Top Goon and the satirists of Kafranbel to the “Lens of a Young” photographers’ associations that blossomed in many Syrian cities. True to its populist goal, the book rebuffs hierarchies of rank or genre, with cartoons, caricatures, posters, and graffiti side-by-side with poetry, short stories, essays, interviews, and novel excerpts, by a mix of established, up-and-coming, and anonymous artists.

While the editors are clear-eyed about the disappointments of the last three years, it is exhilarating to find so many touchstones of brave, humane brilliance gathered together in one volume. Though so many lives have been lost or uprooted, the book is a home for their hopes, and a stepping-stone to a freer future.

For more information: Syria Speaks

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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