Cue by Siwar Masannat


PUB DATE: 03/01/2024

A Jordanian poet considers the cultural nuances of the private-versus-public paradox

With cue, Siwar Masannat follows up her prize-winning debut with poems that wrestle with intimacy and distance. Departing from love as a force of creation, cue’s intertextual experiments and lyric poems map environmental relations and pose questions about privacy and visibility, love and family, gender, and ecological agency. 

Masannat responds to artist Akram Zaatari’s excavation of studio portraits by Hashem El Madani. Captured between the 1940s and 1970s in the Lebanese town of Saida, El Madani’s photographs are living artifacts of a transnational modernity. They archive performances of gender and romance that seek to circumvent respectability politics. The private-public, then, emerges as a paradox at the heart of cue’s composition. The desire to commune with and re-transmit the photographs and their stories is accompanied by the speaker’s understanding of how visibility may be coopted and how privacy, at once essential and weaponized, is unevenly enjoyed, opportunistically deployed, and systematically encroached upon.




At every turn, this brilliant book exposes the intersections between science, culture, economics, and spirituality. It is ultimately a radical love poem to that blue day in a world that erases classification and embraces these shapeshifting intersections. And Siwar Masannat, well, ‘(s)he is (t)here.’

—Brenda Cárdenas, author of Trace and Boomerang


I finish reading Siwar Masannat’s quietly brilliant cue, I close my eyes, I am not alone, I know this is how I’m legible. I hear the voice of cue. It whispers, ‘think of the garter snake breaching ground, so shy, think of the chickens jostling their social order, think of bats listening for what your shape sends back (a circle is all the secrets), think of plants growing closer together, then absent but for their smell. Yes, like that. Yes, think of all the genders. Now sit here. Yes, you can wear the plastic flowers you brought. Yes, only you will see these photographs. Now smile. Or don’t. Think of the theft. Think of the theft back of that. That’s it, now, look this way. Now, if you please, let me keep seeing you.’

—Farid Matuk, author of Redolent


[B]etween story and weave we slight our way in between,’ writes Siwar Masannat, whose spare and tender poems invite the reader to look beyond the myriad classifications in which our intimacies are concealed. Masannat’s poems deftly enact the title of the collection—they aid memory in retrieving buried details, they gesture at how each body is permitted to move, to express identity, love, desire. In poems that gaze back at Lebanese photographer Hashem El-Madani’s portraits and through them, Masannat writes to the subjects, the artist excavating their images, and to the reader, with one breath.

—Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, author of Kaan and Her Sisters


The poems in Siwar Masannat’s cue constantly find a place of necessary disquiet in the interaction of the personal and intimate, and the broader political realities of danger and concern. There is a sensuality in the manner in which they offer lyrical expressions of desire and possibility. Yet, always lurking in the shadows are the threats to desire, communication, and affection. These are the things that demand the language of ‘codes,’ the secret idioms of connection necessary in ‘hostile light.’ As a result, Masannat’s poetry keeps pushing its way towards forms necessary to articulate increasingly challenging realities in the world. Terms like ‘hybridity,’ ‘experimentalism,’ and all the derivations of the prefix ‘trans’—transcultural, transnational, translation—richly and beautifully preoccupy Masannat. These poems are equally compelled by a desire to communicate—sometimes in blunt witticisms, sometimes in song, and sometimes in lyric vulnerability. cue is a stunning second collection by this exciting poet.

—Kwame Dawes, author of Sturge Town




SIWAR MASANNAT is a Jordanian writer. 50 Water Dreams, her debut collection of poetry, was selected by Ilya Kaminsky as the winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Competition and published in 2015. Managing Editor of the African Poetry Book Fund and Prairie Schooner, Masannat currently works at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Most recently, Masannat’s writing appeared in Mïtra: Revue d’art et de littérature, 7iber, Fence, and Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, among others.