Faculty Writing: On Rikers Island as Machine, and Gaza Embodied in Hala Alyan’s Poetry

In New York Review of Architecture, Andy Battle discusses a new oral history of Rikers Island, and counts the ways in which Rikers has become a machine for legion modes of destruction. Ostensibly sequestered from New Yorkers’ sights and minds, the sprawling jail complex is the organ that allows the city to run. If Rikers is a condition for the maintenance of the dominant order, as Battle posits, it is an unfathomably brutal bludgeon, “a machine to arrest movement, thwart connection, to reduce human abilities—a disabling machine.” 

Then, writing in LA Review of Books, Tony Alessandrini celebrates a new collection from Palestinian-American poet Hala Alyan, The Moon That Turns You Back, for the ways that it enacts the movement, and the meaning, of transformation from spectator to witness. Alessandrini registers how, across Alyan’s extensive corpus—whether peripatetic or geographically-situated, screenplay or poem—“Gaza is always present.” Alyan’s work, he writes, “is unstinting in representing the trauma of having to carry the lost land in the body.”

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