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What to Count

Poems by Alise Alousi


Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: August 2023
ISBN: 9780814350706
Pages: 86 Size: 6 x 9
Published: August 2023
ISBN: 9780814350713

With heart and insight, the poems in Alise Alousi’s What to Count speak to what it means to come of age as an Iraqi American during the first Gulf War and its continuing aftermath, but also to the joy and complexity of motherhood, daughterhood, and what it means to live a creative life. More than a description of the world, Alousi’s poetry actively lives in and of the world. These poems explore the nuances of memory through the changes wrought by time, conflict, and distance. In "The Ocularist" and "Art," and others, Alousi’s extraordinary verbal deftness precisely locates the still-tender pains and triumphs of collective being while trying to be an individual in the world. What to Count is a remarkable collection of contemporary poetry—both a lyrical splendor and a contemplative account of lineage, silenced history, and identity.

Alise Alousi is a 2019 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow and has received awards from Knight Arts Detroit, Mesa Refuge, and others. Her work has been widely anthologized including in the collections To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry (both Wayne State University Press) and Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry. She works at InsideOut Literary Arts and has been an active part of the literary arts in metro Detroit for many years. She currently serves on the steering committee for Room Project, a workspace for women and nonbinary writers in Detroit and teaches poetry to teens at the Arab American National Museum. .

Alise Alousi writes as an Iraqi American, a Detroiter, a daughter, a mother, and a citizen who refuses to let injustices slide, who is sensitive to the darker passages of our history, who counts people who would otherwise be counted out. She is a poet of witness and solace.

– Edward Hirsch, author of Gabriel: A Poem

As though the ocular cavity may hold an eternity in the ‘sliver of the everyday,’ Alise Alousi’s poems create cinematic dimensions beyond sight as they subtly, gently navigate her father’s loss of sight—emblematic of the loss of all the multiplicities that define the speaker. It takes great prowess to shape ‘memory / into a spoon,’ as Alousi does, nourishing the spirit by revealing and recovering the past.

– Shadab Zeest Hashmi, author of Ghazal Cosmopolitan and Comb

I've been reading and listening to Alise Alousi's poetry for a long time, captivated by both its aural and structural patterns and immediacy of experience. This is not poetry at any distance, but one feels inside a life, across the table from the poet, hearing news from a friend. There are an array of formal approaches here, as well as Alousi's commitment to her community and the care she has for it.

– Kazim Ali, author of Sukun: New and Selected Poems

What To Count is a lyrical composition of intimate vignettes, revealing the intricacies of intergenerational diasporic relationships across multiple cultures and geographies, from Baghdad to Detroit. This remarkable collection explores the boundaries of form through daring experimentation. Divided into three sections—Pattern, Persistence, and Portrait—each section is a poetic masterpiece in its own right. This significant contribution to Arab and Arab American literature is especially critical, as it marks the twentieth anniversary of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, a war that sparked one of the most prolonged and disheartening periods in the histories of both Iraq and America. Alise Alousi’s poetic journey of un/coverings celebrates the connection between those who survived the direct experiences of war and displacement and those with post-memory in the diaspora—mutually the trauma, hopes, and dreams.

– Dena Al-Adeeb, Iraqi born artist, writer, educator, scholar-activist, and mother

What counts is the circle when you dance like this,’ says Alise Alousi, letting her words echo in our minds. The distinctive voice in these poems allows the ‘I’ to resort to the other pronouns in reverberating at the most intimate yet public. These are poems at the service of humanity.

– Dunya Mikhail, author of In Her Feminine Sign

In What to Count, Alise Alousi trains an unflinching eye on the life she has lived as a daughter of immigrants (‘We came to Detroit for a funeral and never left / the all-electric house . . .’) and as a mother and wife. But that eye is also inward looking, reliving her own dreams, that gift that, like a poem, ‘turned away’ as she ‘slowly lifted her hand to wave.’ However unrequited its gesture, that hand has never stopped waving, and these poems greet their readers with a persistent urgency. What to Count soars high above the fray of postindustrial America.

– Tyrone Williams, professor at SUNY Buffalo and author of stilettos in a rifle range (Wayne State University Press)