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Threa Almontaser

Threa Almontaser is a Yemeni American writer, translator, and multimedia artist from New York City. She holds an MFA from North Carolina State University.

Her first full-length poetry collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen, was selected by Harryette Mullen as the winner of the 2020 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets, and will be published by Graywolf Press in April 2021.

About The WIld Fox of Yemen, Mullen writes,

“The spirit of Whitman lives in these poems that sing and celebrate a vibrant, rebellious body with all its physical and spiritual entanglements. Formally and linguistically diverse, these bold, defiant declarations of ‘reckless’ embodiment acknowledge the self's nesting identities, proclaiming the individual's intricate relations to others, the one in the many and the many in the one. Ultimately, they ask how to belong to others without losing oneself, how to be faithful to oneself without forsaking others. Exuberant dialogues incorporate communities of known and unknown interlocutors along with translations of the Yemeni poet Abdullah Al-Baradouni.”

Almontaser teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

By This Poet

1

Heritage Emissary

My parents leave me behind as a child, To keep
the culture alive. I cry at Aden airport, held in a headlock
by an aunt to keep from running. I’m singularly chosen

like Virgin Mary—my title as heritage emissary
for the Almontaser’s set and sealed since birth.
Back in New York City, I’m designated translator,

mouth of saffron, gold coins, a little burning. Since I’ve
returned, there’s been less of me in English. No,
there’s less of me out loud. Sah, my native speech

is like a window sash pulled up wa down. Sah,
I shift phrases without thought. Friends stare at my returned
self like I grew horns. Can shoot bombs out my ass. Like

they want to dump me in ma’a, watch me float
like a witch. Speech becomes a cracked cooking pot
I bang crude beats on, while I long to tap a song

that doesn’t terrorize, a song that’s understood. If I forget
a verb, use the Arabic equivalent, they pat my back
in case I hack mucus wa dem. Almushkila is

I’m a surging current of feared language. Words have
stopped coming easily. Maybe it was Rumi who said
silence is the language of God and all else is poor

  translation. I’m not mathaluhum. I can’t properly translate
  myself, so a settled lake floats my tongue quiet. I open
  my mouth and spoud shrouds of senseless steam. I need

            .with accent my sink to anchor an and dictionary a
 that, cooing blurred a like sound don’t I that proof need I
    lie I conferences Parent-teacher .sense make still can I

about my D in Algebra. Turn, She daydreams during
lessons, into, Qaluu I pay attention to detail. Turn
She’s suspended for fighting into I’m such a good student

they gave me a day off. Each rephrasing lengthens my nose.
I’m out of breath from so much code-switching, crunching
the sand it leaves between my teeth. When threatened

with a phone-call home, I shrug, Taib. Go ahead.
They’ll say, yes yes, but won’t yafhumun, will ask me
about it later so I can twist it
. At dinner, Baba tells a story

of his childhood in Yemen. About catching a wild fox
with his cousin—Arabic the medium through which
his body can return home. I drown him out. Ana asif,

I don’t mean to. It’s only that my languages get mukhtalit
and when he talks it sounds mathal poetry. So when I hear
a line about a lost, sly animal, I’m struck mute.
                                                                Think he means ani.