The South Wind blows the reader back and forth—between the living and the dead, between the Middle East and Middle Pacific, between love lost and spirit gained. Adele Ne Jame’s angels bridge the chasms, but in this haunting collection she, too, has “eyes for wings.” Like her night heron at the edge of the water, she offers us “beauty if not redemption” and guides us toward “the roar on the other side of silence.”
—Christine Hemp, author of That Fall
A soft melody breezes through these perfectly crafted poems located in New Jersey, in Hawai‘i and in Lebanon, as if to whisper khalleek hown, stay here. Ne Jame’s collection is a soulful search for place, for time, for identity, weaving meaning from memory and exalting in the discovery of home.
—Elise Salem, author of Constructing Lebanon: A Century of Literary Narratives
Distilling the bittersweet, capturing what it means to be creatures in love with a fleeting world of wonders—this is the specialty of poets. Adele Ne Jame’s poems are lovely examples of the art.
In this beautiful collection, Ne Jame moves among loved ones and landscapes as disparate as New Jersey, Hawaii, and Lebanon. Her continuous awareness of the overlapping realms of life and death is what gives this book its emotional heft. Blasted by war, by infidelity, by age and its discouragements, families, cities, and cultures live on, claiming happiness where they can.
Lebanon—torn apart by war multiple times in Ne Jame’s lifetime—gets special attention here, from the poems and also from a lengthy afterword by Hayan Charara. It is a landscape perfectly suited to Ne Jame’s work, attentive as it is to both the presence and the absence of the dead. This is poetry of place that makes one wonder: what did place teach the poet, and what does the poet’s eye illuminate in the place?
What a pity there are so few poems here: only fifteen, but each beautifully wrought. Ne Jame’s imagery is lush, her control spot on, and her clear, reverent voice will leave the reader breathless. These poems are solidly rooted in the world but always aware of other worlds: the past, the wild realm of angels—“the roar on the other side of silence”—and of what we are continuously making of our lives.
Adele Ne Jame teaches at Hawaii Pacific University. She is the recipient of several prizes, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and has published three previous collections, including Field Work. Her poems have been anthologized in collections of Arab American poetry.
Both seasoned readers and those new to poetry—these are accessible poems with great emotional rewards, and the afterword provides helpful context—will enjoy this book. The range of topics—elegies, an outdoor concert, a bombed statue, a rain forest cabin, even the possibility of love—are united by a lingering, elegant tone. These poems are like the “blasted roses / in the rock gardens that are gathered by / villagers and distilled into perfumed / water to wash the bodies of the dead.”
Ne Jame believes “nothing can save us from / what hourly we are making or unmaking.” Here there is no escape, and perhaps no mercy, either. But there is abundant beauty, and a will to live fully. As she writes: “like the fields of / the wild red anemone, we are waving / our songs in the air before night falls.”
—Teresa Scollon, ForeWord Reviews
We hunger for good word from the old countries. The ways our ancestors perched by small fires or tiny heaters on chill nights, anxious for one of the blue onion-skin folded air-letters, thin on weight but rich with connection, read and reread in the twilight, we long for something to assure us of ongoing legacy. People have disappeared, been swallowed up by distance and discord. No one calls anymore. We need the deeply colored, firmly knotted red and green threads holding fragments together.
Such lives we’ve all been living, at the end of the twentieth century and staggering start of the precarious twenty-first --- lives of split-second media announcement offering surreal “awareness” and “information” but nevertheless threatening to disconnect whole peoples from their roots, place us all at odds. At the same time that thousands of voices in so many far streets are raised for justice and self-determination, other voices right down the block quiver, shy to express the simplest, most elemental humanities. And we miss one another. How do we navigate these fraught seasons, keeping alive our love for old cultures and people who made us, in a time which separates, striking so much down?
For many, it’s poetry which heals and helps the balance. Adele Ne Jame, a Lebanese-American who’s lived for decades in Hawai’i, makes her first and second journey to her family’s home country of Lebanon and calls herself “a stranger/in this place that should have been/my home…” (from a poem “First Night at the Beirut Commodore” written later than this book). She carries her own tin lamp “up the thousand steps of the mountain” and feels the lives she has known inside her skin pitch awake, to carry her and the memories that precede and permeate her. She remembers her beautiful brother poet Haas Mroue, who died on his own return trip to Lebanon – “you kneeled to show me /what could be salvaged, then stood…”
She finds her way. “They have a saying here: it’s quiet until it’s not.” One can detect deep solitude and silence hovering here behind the lines – a “pause” and a “hold” in each image. In elegant poems of rediscovery, Ne Jame encounters and invokes traditions, details of landscape and geography, foods arranged on tables, movements, which were always part of her being. “The World is a Wedding” and suddenly we all are “mapping small countries/from the air” because we need to, because they have waited for us so patiently, retaining their own savory flavors and tender dreams.
Ne Jame writes with delicacy and fine maneuvering, around the luscious remembered and imagined landscapes. She feels the textures and presences of all times, and she weaves them. Something is restored. Her worlds of Hawai’i, childhood with immigrant parents in New Jersey, and travel in Lebanon, mix and mingle without clash. Her friend Haas wrote, “We are all refugees,/we drift through places/like pollen in May” – haunting lines quoted at the front of The South Wind. And we all have so many ways of finding our lost homes – and the homes of one another, which contribute to our grounding.
An exquisite short poem, “My Father’s Abandoned House in the High Village” ends by invoking the “sad welcome” Ne Jame feels there. She speaks to her father’s lost sister Julia, whom she never met, seeing “the light on the pond just as you did.” Many of us have felt such startling and lucky re-unifications, longing for our lost ones’ dreams and hopes to be satisfied in this world, even after their own departures – wistfully acknowledging how much has been left behind along the convoluted path to the present. It’s a question of being haunted, and Ne Jame knows just how to shape a poem to honor that lonesome glow. Haunted means “lost” but it also means “remembered” and we drift inside both worlds at all times.
The poem “Cheating” achieves a lyrical perfection by creating a timeless scene flooded with “gorgeous morning light.” Ne James invokes Darwish, Rumi, George Eliot, her own family members – speaking up subtly and unobtrusively for simple citizens of every country who would persist and survive through “terrible undoing and/carnage” – she carries full in her being the spectacular beauties and sorrows of the islands of Hawai’i, their own occupations and losses, informing her sense of precious legacy and endangerment.
Simplicity is riveting.
One can only wish this fine slim volume, with its thoughtful afterword by esteemed poet and anthologist Hayan Charara (whose own grandfather was killed in the July War of 2006 in Lebanon) were four or five times lengthier. Charara writes, “…war creates in us a sense of urgency. We feel we must do something, especially if people we know are affected.” Also, he writes that “the people in The South Wind aren’t so much surviving as they are giving their lives back to themselves – recovering them.”
This book is a testament to humanity and its complicated song. As a longtime fan of Ne Jame’s poems, I feel our current troubled international landscape requiring her wise observations and perceptions more than ever, for sustenance and comfort. Arab Americans will feel at home in these pages. Any human being living in any kind of exile…and readers who only “know” the Middle East through headlines blaring chaos and violence, may realize through poems such as these how inadequate that portrait is -- how many rich maps we have yet to unfold.
—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of You and Yours
In an evidence-based world, we are forever trying to solve the puzzle of the play of appearances and trying to fit the pieces into place. For the poet, however, the pieces won’t fit, the puzzle will never be solved. Out of depths Orpheus-like and at the borders Janus-faced, she travels as exile and maker in an exploratory trajectory between seen and unseen, alive to the always-changing pathways towards the sayable. In The South Wind, a new collection of graceful, exquisitely-wrought poems by Adele Ne Jame, the poet navigates her way through the winds of loss, violence, and the ravages of history--via lament and mourning--towards the possibilities of new life. Each poem marks a destination reached that is hard-won, hard-earned, composed of the poet’s alchemic power, emotional steadiness, and spiritual nimbleness. And each destination marks a recovery, however provisional, through poetic remembrance and verbal music, of what time and war have undone.
Ne Jame offers a lyric voice that weaves a richness in spirit and a depth of soul, together with an historical consciousness from the personal to the political across a wide canvas, that is both unusual and admirable in contemporary poetry. For with poetry having been co-opted by labs, studios, offices, classrooms, you name it, she knows full well what poetry can and cannot do.
You could say she harnesses the elemental wind to her poetic craft, intending the energies of a poem to be felt for what they are—modes or nodes of realization, not only of representation. When bringing such awareness into language, the poet as maker almost has to step aside, for a very clear force is writing through her, one that would declare: I have mastered the art of leaving, I perceive the forms and change them. The hugeness of the heart and vision, in other words, is mindfulness in action. We can learn much from this poet. She touches the nerve of our humanity and looses a freedom our hearts cry out for. We can, her poems remind us, vitally wake up to the voice we hear at dawn.
—Alan Botsford, editor of Poetry Kanto, author of Walt Whitman of Cosmic Folklore
The South Wind
By Adele Ne Jame
Published: Mānoa Books/El León,
Adele Ne Jame is the author of Inheritance, Field Work, and Poems, Land & Spirit. Recipient of a Pablo Neruda prize and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry, she teaches at Hawai‘i Pacific University.