In Invasive species, Marwa Helal’s politically charged poems touch on our collective humanity. This work centers on urgent themes in our cultural landscape, focusing on the victims of discriminatory foreign (read: immigration) policy: migrants, refugees―the displaced.
Helal disorients space in a way that is both welcome and necessary ... The absurdity of the U.S. immigration system becomes especially clear when she describes, in detail, her path to citizenship ... The markings brought to the pages throughout this collection are framed such that readers must look and think about how they, too, are complicit, to varying degrees, with the racism and tyranny of U.S. CIS, ICE, and the TSA ... I would rather live in a world in which Cairo can emerge on the other side of a tunnel in California. In Helal’s imaginative future, movement is no less complex, but it is far more free.
Helal’s first and often stellar book belongs to many categories, and to none ... The volume shows her powers — and her amply justified anger ... Helal’s essay on her departure and her return takes up most of her book ... That essay’s sad, or shocking, moments build to a muted, perhaps optimistic conclusion ... Other, shorter segments of the volume show just as much fire, and more variety. The more-than-clever opening piece introduces a form that Helal dubs 'the Arabic,' whose lines must be read (like Arabic) right to left as well as left to right ... Helal’s title puns on the ecological concept of invasive species (like Asian carp in United States lakes) and on the notion that immigrants cannot belong here. The poet may be safe in Brooklyn now, but how many others — how many other Arabic speakers, how many Arab-Americans, how many African-Americans — are not? ... Such questions generate Helal’s best work ... It is a push that could, and should, open doors.
Helal’s debut full-length collection, Invasive Species, is a liberation from the governance of capital-E English and an embrace of the gorgeous mutations that can be made of its more malleable cousin, lowercase-e english. It's written in many englishes ... Helal harnesses the English (capital E) of governments and visas and borders, wielding it radically and expertly.