Glenn Shaheen, Predatory
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
2011, 88 pages, paperback, $15
glenn shaheen’s debut collection examines the panic that inundates every facet of American life. Reading through Predatory feels like waiting at the airport, constantly being reminded that the Department of Homeland Security has raised the threat level to orange, but, more importantly, you think that you might have left the gas on. The panic explored here is thankfully not just political—a trap that would be entirely too easy to fall into—but minute and every day. Shaheen doesn’t waggle his finger at you on every page nor bore you with his struggles as an Arab-American in a post-9/11 world. He does recall the day the Twin Towers fell. He was eating a sandwich. The thirty-nine poems in this collection approach the heaviness America feels with refreshing wit, originality, and beauty.
One of the most striking features of this book is its accessibility. Not to say these poems are easy or dumbed down like gummy vitamins. It is a testament to how skillfully Shaheen puts his images together within the poem and reveals something about our lives. In “Feral Cats,” Shaheen juxtaposes the howling of sick animals outside of his house with scientists having found the region of the brain that tricks people into seeing ghosts. Fear and horror surround these poems, but the fear can be deceiving. Shaheen’s poems lift the bed sheet off of the ghosts that our brains have been tricked into seeing and reveal your next-door neighbor underneath.
The narrator’s voice is arrestingly humorous, critical, but most importantly, relatable. He writes in the poem, “Killing Machine”:
My friend needs help
but I don’t want to help. I want to stay home
and watch a DVD alone. Preferably a comedy
without political undertones.
Politics weigh heavily on our minds in the age of the 24/7 CNN ticker keeping us up-to-date on all the new developments and ever-shifting opinion polls, but Shaheen pulls back and looks at the smaller things. These moments are the most engaging of the collection. Those Michael Bay moments of disaster and panic are traded for the small disasters that pepper people’s lives every day.
As suggested by the title of the book, these poems are about predators—both being preyed upon but also turning the tables. The cover’s image of a lion taking down a horse draws attention to this relationship in the poems. There are times when the narrator is the horse trying desperately to shake off his attacker, and there are poems where the narrator is tearing down the world around him. In the collection’s title poem, Shaheen writes:
I know a lot
of ways to sleep next to a women. Some without
Some predatory. Some unorthodox.
In this world, Shaheen seems to be saying, you are never just one side of the equation. Or at least, to survive, you can’t let yourself only be the horse.
Glenn Shaheen’s poems belong to the outsider who has been shut out but confusedly keeps rapping on the door to be let in. He has managed to speak for us all, but in his own individual way. Shaheen has given voice to post-9/11 Americans, armed to the teeth with technology, with all their concerns surrounding plummeting stock markets, perpetual warmongering and information overload. This book is what it is like to live today: an accomplishment and a sign of great things to come.
—Syed Ali Haider