Political reckoning and personal history unite in The Lost Arabs

Western Sydney University doctoral student and poet Omar Sakr

For Western Sydney University doctoral student and poet Omar Sakr, “nothing else feels like life the way poetry, with its ever-changing shape and sound, it’s strange glory, feels like life.” In Omar’s second collection of poetry, The Lost Arabs, this poetic life is visceral, energetic and explores with brutal honesty and painful beauty ideas of identity, belonging, sexuality, divinity, conflict and redemption.    

“The poems in The Lost Arab are a testament against erasure, a record of sins and prayers, fantasies and fallacies, love and lovelessness—they are meant for Arabs, for Muslims, for queer people of colour, for anyone with a heart willing to listen,” said Omar, who is currently researching Arab Australian Literature at the Writing and Society Research centre.

Published by Queensland University Press (UQP), the collection is framed as both a political reckoning and personal history, with notions of belonging and identity featuring prominently.

“I am Arab and there is great beauty and possibility in the word Arab. I wanted to own that and explore that in the work. I am also bisexual, Turkish, Australian, male and Muslim. I can lay claim to many communities, and yet none of them have felt like home, which is to say safe.

“Depending on who you ask, I am not gay enough, not Arab enough, not Turkish enough, not man enough, not Muslim enough, and definitely not Australian enough; sometimes I am too gay, too Arab, too Turkish, too male, too Muslim, or too Australian! In each community there are those who hold onto a fixed idea of what that particular identity entails, what it looks like, and how it must behave.

“I write toward unbelonging, toward a sense of non-ownership, where I can be my most complex and open self, far from false certainties. It is here I feel most free,” said Omar.

The work also began as a response to the phrase ‘The Arab Spring’.

“The Arab Spring was such a condescending moniker applied to various popular rebellions in the Arab world a few years ago, and which seemed to un-ironically suggest Arabs were emerging from a barbarous "winter", from a dictatorial darkness into a democratic blooming, as though either were a natural state of being instead of an imposed governing structure.

“Coming from Western commentators, whose nations continue to commit extraordinary violences in that region of the world, and who frequently supported that dictatorial darkness, with financial and military aid, I found it particularly galling.

“I wanted to write critically about the forces that shaped my family: migration, poverty, faith, and abuse. I wanted to tear the phrase “Arab Spring” apart and see what fell out of it (flowers and bullets, imperial maps and glass eyes, loss and loss and somewhere, love, too.) I wanted to be able to write about “spring” without Arab in front of it.

“In The Lost Arab I explore what it is to be an Arab Muslim in this world, not as a disinterested observer, but through the lens of my own history, and as someone impacted by Orientalism and Islamophobia on a virtually constant basis. I write about my queer desires and experiences, the harms inflicted at home, and outside of it.”

Beyond bringing life to the political and personal, Omar also hopes The Lost Arabs inspires the next generation of poets and writers.

“There isn’t a critical depth of Arab Australian poets and writers, but I am hoping that the next generation will see writers like me – an Arab Australian poet raised in Western Sydney in a single parent household – and realise that they can write about anything and do anything they want.”

The Lost Arabs will be launched on May 10th, at Granville Town Hall. For more information or to secure tickets go to https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-lost-arabs-by-omar-sakr-book-launch-tickets-59868895478

For more information about Omar Sakr and to read extracts of Omar’s work go to: https://omarsakr.com/

About the Author

Omar Sakr is an Arab Australian poet from Western Sydney. He is the author of The Lost Arabs (2019) and These Wild Houses (2017), a collection of poetry shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award and the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. Omar’s poems have been published in English, Arabic, and Spanish, featuring most recently in Prairie Schooner, The Margins, Tinderbox, Wildness, Peril, Circulo de Poesía, Overland, Meanjin, and Griffith Review, among others. He has also been anthologised in Best Australian Poems 2016, and in Contemporary Australian Poetry.

Omar placed runner-up in the Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets (2016), and has been shortlisted for Cosmonaut Avenue’s Creative Nonfiction Prize (2017), the Fair Australia Poetry Prize (2016), the Story Wine Prize (2015), and the ACU Poetry Prize (2015). Elsewhere, his articles and essays have appeared in The Saturday Paper, The Guardian,The Sydney Morning Herald, Archer, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, SBS Life, The Wheeler Centre, and Junkee.


9 May 2019

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer.