BkMk Press Books

The Red Hijab

by Bonnie Bolling

Price: $13.95, 72 pages

ISBN: 9781943491063, 2016

Poetry. Winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by H. L. Hix.


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"The work simmers with a poignant sense of place." −Booklist 

"Provides a unique view of Bahraini culture...a journalistic view but with empathy." —Redactions

Inspired by her time in the Persian Gulf, Bonnie Bolling expands the typical American view of the Middle East in The Red Hijab. Her poetry confronts violence, and the anger many residents feel, but it also shows the daily kindness and humanity that occur alongside, and even because of, the region’s turmoil. The Red Hijab explores a place filled with beauty, culture, and family, amid the everyday lives of people whose growing collective empowerment has become one of the major issues of our time.


Bolling’s collection is one of glances, quick ones, apertures, slow ones and tiny voyages into expansive and borderless systems—love, chaos, humanity & violence. The poems unfurl with the poetic wisdom of Rumi and the almost-captive squared-in spaces of Camus—with lentils and hooked-up sheep and lonely long-faced horses. What country is it? An ancient one ruled by ancient practices, a new one blistering itself into blood-letting birth? Or the one in-between recorded by the scribe, wet with hymns and prayer rugs, and quick faces of  women and cruel desires of adolescents and silhouettes in flames? Notice this with flat bread and kitchen light, with hand-made weapons and rubble. This is one of the finest set of verses I have read in years. With the bitter-sweet melody of the philosopher and the outcast, the listener of a country’s moans, that is, the sweeper of grabbed-up joys those lost shredded flags of lettuce-like things people grasp before death, so, perhaps, they will blossom into something else that will escort them to life—this voice here, leaves it on this table, for us. A total masterpiece.
    —Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States

St. Anthony of Padua reminds us: The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer recognizes himself or the fact that he is praying. This is the great virtue of The Red Hijab. Living in Bahrain for several years, Bonnie Bolling’s new book is a secular hymn, an affirmation of life. The poet loses herself in the careful attention to the smallest daily details of the culture—a broom, bread, a cat, a plumeria blossom, the call of the muezzin. Taken together, they focus on a common life source rising above sectarianism. Yet Bolling is clear-eyed and realistic in observing the ironies and consequences of politics and religions. These are points of meditation that sing with a quiet hope for us all. These are poems of experience, modest and exact—poems that achieve a brilliant, honest light.
    —Christopher Buckley, Modern History and Star Apocrypha

In this, her second book, Bonnie Bolling leaves no doubt as to her important place in America’s contemporary poetry. You may read the deft aesthetic grace, as I did, as without misstep she navigates the strangeness of the land she inhabits. The inner heart that is revealed is true in its reflections; the world of the muezzin and hijab is seen through eyes that leave any judgment completely to the reader. All of her people resonate with remarkable depth and presence. There is no polemic here, no agenda, no travel narrative. The Red Hijab transcends all these. It is another remarkable book by Bolling, and it is a gift to us from a true artist.
    —Frank X. Gaspar

Like an ancient mantra, the steady patient voice in these poems threads through time and space and reworks the pattern of loss, such small and large violence, and a grief so communal and private its silence has sound. Always this sense of eternal aftermath. Yet there is cardamom for coffee, lemon in the gin, melons and good bread, the beautiful housemaid though “long ago, someone thought/ to carve away her ear.” Yes, a stranger in a strange land here, but Bolling, an American poet in the Middle East, becomes a stranger to herself in the process—out of love and honest, fearless attention.
    —Marianne Boruch

Bonnie Bolling’s first collection of poetry, In the Kingdom of the Sons, won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry, and her second, The Red Hijab, won the John Ciardi Poetry Prize. She was awarded fellowships by Bread Loaf Writers Conferences, Prague Summer Writers and the University of California, Riverside, where she received a MFA. Her play, The Red Hijab, was produced at UCR by Playworks in 2010. Bonnie is editor-in-chief of Verdad and lives in southern California and the Persian Gulf.

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