The images are surreal, yet full of tenderness and danger ... In most of these poems, Alyan uses long lines or avoids lineation all together as she does in the collection's prose poems. These choices let story and tone come through most strongly. Her lines are so vivid I often feel as if I'm watching a documentary ... a book of triumph, the worlds courageously explored, the speaker, and the reader, changed.
Nothing is taboo here. There are honest discussions about sex, drinking, and trauma ... Alyan exposes her life and her roots without shame, even when her words could lead to judgment. In poem after poem, there is raw emotion, straightforward storytelling, and unapologetic truth ... the reader, like the author, is never on solid ground, never entirely comfortable ... The Twenty-Ninth Year stuck with me because it contains stunning lines, while being entirely about going through things and learning to cope with them ... The poems here read like scars and sound like heartbreaking stories told by a friend in the darkest booth at a gloomy juke joint.
The speedy prose poems and long, wiry lines of The Twenty-Ninth Year link Alyan’s Palestinian heritage, her peripatetic family history, her travels across the United States, and her own emotional ups and downs: in and out of a marriage, out of alcoholism, into recovery ... her poems do not put down roots...they stay in motion, zipping between the many regions that have shaped her life. That’s not just a matter of proper nouns (though it is that too) but a matter of jump cuts and curtailed sentences, of poems whose grammar, also, will not stay put ... In prose poems, in long-lined couplets, the lines spark and zap and speed up as they go on: these forms have no built-in stopping points, nor do they require lengthy sentences—they can just stop and go, stop and go, overshoot, spiral, return ... Alyan and her mercurial phrases seem to belong nowhere, at least for now: they show how it feels to keep on going, to identify with people, or peoples, who cannot stay in one place. That migratory restlessness, now, as in centuries past, is a source of style: it, too, can take us lands away. And it puts the lie to factitious complaints about how some poetry is universal, while other poets depend on identity: everybody has multiple identities...just as everyone has a place of origin, and everyone who isn’t homeless has a home.
With scathing wit, fierce self-examination, and challenging syntax, Alyan’s fourth collection uses the threshold age of the title to investigate the poet’s struggles ... Alyan takes great risks, drips her full, naked self onto the page, and inspires her readers to embrace and examine our gravest mistakes, for every part of ourselves is a piece of a complicated puzzle that we can’t — mustn’t — stop trying to solve.
... a collection of poems that explores the intimate concept of aging through narratives that form a compelling, central admission: that the recklessness of youth and the experiences from which we create personal truth are necessary to the formation of wisdom ... The poems assembled in The Twenty-Ninth Year tug 'the humble out of something wild' with an elegant and stylish range of forms ... In this process of gathering the past at the feet of the present, the emotional dynamic of how 'every wound reveals its own repair' is a countenance of wisdom.
The poems in The Twenty Ninth Year are like so many sorrowful songs, broken up like exquisite corpses, surrealist postcards from a nomad’s wanderings, dark confessions of a battered soul ... [Alyan's] voyage takes place on a more intimate, subversive level. Her provocative affront to the taboos imposed upon Arab and Muslim women, her shattering of the shame that surrounds our sexualities and bodies, her frank display of abuse, obscenity and failure, liberates the genre from its grandiosity, imagining a gospel of the mundane that reflects the mortality and fragility in each and every one of us ... And, through the fractured sentences and illogical juxtapositions, the strange scenarios and mad imagination, a nightmare emerges.
Reading Hala Alyan’s stunning collection in one sitting may be an overwhelming experience. The poems delve into memory and present imagery that evokes pain, shame, and sorrow in lyrical metaphors that are surprising and unforgettable ... The poems are not without joy and love, but in digging into the psyche, Alyan shapes a story of a haunting year in settings both geographical and psychological ... In all forms, Alyan’s lyric imagery is striking in a way that is both beautiful and violent. She presents contradictions that abound inside each of us, but in particular inside those of us in situations out of our control ... settings are brilliantly detailed ... dares to bring uncomfortable truths to its pages, and the result is a collection that probes and plunges into memory for assurances to hold onto.
Alyan’s Twenty-Ninth Year responds from a set of spectacles and subjectivities that manage to be both highly pathologized yet underwritten: the exile, the daughter of immigrants, the addict, the Arab, the wife. Alyan approaches these origin wounds and distorted projections through lyric remnants, and in decorating a backdrop of mutilation with souvenirs of quiet grief and unkempt eroticism, Alyan manages to scrape back some of what has been violently taken ... While Alyan risks writing the nostalgia of rebellious girlhood to be nearly too romantic, paired with the realities of constant surveillance and the humiliation of being policed wherever she goes, Alyan’s stringent confessions of deceit, alcoholism, and theft can be read more incisively as micro-refusals, a diary of refusal ... , Alyan’s poetic layering heightens the blurred and often exaggerated distinctions of sex and work, desire and obligation ... but Alyan’s poems offer some relief, a green door cracking open.
... Alyan packs this truly stellar collection of poetry with a preponderance of heavy topics ... If the collection wants for anything, it’s that each poem offers only a glimpse or a moment, whereas the subject matter could sustain several more pages of vicious, gripping verse. Luckily, readers can dive into the rest of Alyan’s burgeoning oeuvre...
The Palestinian-American poet, novelist, and clinical psychologist weaves an ever-shifting narrative that chronicles the personal history that shapes and informs her present. These kaleidoscopic flashes of former lives share the feeling and act of displacement ... The inheritance of displacement is pervasive, as Alyan describes, and her lines are prone to linger in the minds of readers just like the ghosts that haunt the work itself.