Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-American thinker and poet, twice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His work appears in international publications and websites, such as Best American Poetry, AGNI, On Being, World Literature Today, The London Magazine, Philosophy Now and Rain Taxi, while he has been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, and in The Guardian, among other places.
Lababidi’s first book Signposts to Elsewhere (Jane Street Press) was selected as a 2008 Book of the Year by The Independent (UK). His next book, the critically acclaimed collection of literary and cultural essays, Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly-Dancing was followed by a well-received poetry collection, Fever Dreams. Lababidi’s latest books are a series of ecstatic, literary dialogues with Alex Stein, The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi, as well as a collection of short poems, Barely There, touching on the life of the spirit. He was chosen as a Juror for the 2012 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Lababidi’s work has also appeared in several anthologies, such as Geary’s Guide to the World's Great Aphorists, where he is the only contemporary Arab poet featured; the best-selling US college textbook, Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing; and, most recently, Short Flights, the first collection of modern American aphorists. His writing has been translated into several languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, Slovak, Italian, and Dutch. Lababidi has participated in international poetry festivals in the United States, Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East, while video adaptations of his poems have been shown in film festivals worldwide.
Lababidi’s poems, like the clouds they observe, filter reality as they shape and reshape themselves. They do their work quietly, but only the most careless reader would be lulled to inattention, since we know from so many other contexts how often quietness represents strength.
—H.L. Hix, from the Foreword to Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems, 1993 – 2015
Yahia Lababidi writes as a man possessed with both the sayable and unsayable, as a poet “in search of that which is in search of him," as one of his mystical predecessors, Jalāl ad- Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, described the poet's unnegotiable mission. Like Walt Whitman, he believes in his soul and listens to it with prayerful attention, apprehending first "the hum of [his] valved voice" before conjuring his own original expression for the wedding dance of mystery and wisdom. His authority resonates in plain-spoken yet dazzling poetry—sometimes epigrammatic, sometimes expansive—that betrays the eclectic transmissions of his myriad influences, from Hafiz to Kierkegaard, Dickinson to Kafka. He is indeed a piece of wood that's found itself a violin, and yet he is not a violin that knows he's a violin. His poetry, music, and wisdom pass through him unselfconsciously, purely, like a hallowed breeze. He must hurt at the sound of his ecstasies.
—Chard deNiord, Poet Laureate of Vermont and author of Interstate
Wisdom for Lababidi is on the move, a matter of suppleness rather than rigor, of insights and angles rather than rules. . . As intense as his conversation with himself is, it is also kind, tolerant of his own limits and of ours. . . I give you that expert self-listener, that excellent writer, Yahia Lababidi.
—James Richardson, poet, aphorist, and author of By the Numbers
I find myself pausing everywhere among these wisdoms, wondering why the world stumbles and staggers through such a dark and greedy time when there are people alive with such keen, caring insight. . . If Yahia Samir Lababidi were in charge of a country, I would want to live there.
—Naomi Shihab Nye, poet, anthologist, and author of There Is No Long Distance Now
Lababidi moves from the aphoristic and the epigrammatic to the suggestive, the lightly hinted, the nuanced, with impressive ease. This is a rare gift, more associated with European writers than with American. This striation of tone, of register, of mood, gives a sense of surprise to his sentences; they spring back to the touch. Sometimes they even seem surprised at themselves. . . . The book becomes an exploration on which the reader embarks. This is one of the elements in collections I most appreciate—this secret invitation au voyage that the author holds out—and Lababidi does this extremely well, with courtesy as well as cunning.
—Eric Ormsby, poet, scholar, and author of Ghazali: The Revival of Islam
Lababidi knows that fables and metaphors overcome resistance more readily than facts and position papers. His half-smile becomes our own, changing our self-estimate, and then—who knows?—the choices we make as well.
—Alfred Corn, poet, essayist, and author of Tables
Brilliant. . . think of the wild mind of Blake and the calmly collected Wallace Stevens, with a touch of Franz Kafka's hammer inside a velvet glove.
—Duff Brenna, novelist, author of Murdering the Mom: A Memoir
The mind is full
of elephants and mice
scuffling in corridors
the air is dense
with stray spirits and ghosts
swarming for soul
presence of mind
is to take leave of absence,
revel in necessary luxury
(an idle, perfect moment)
the balletic leap and twist
of a tremulous curtain or thought;
a shifting palette of light,
the lengthening of breath
or the secret thrill
on inner processes
The Skin of Things
It should seem odd
to buy and sell flesh
for who can measure love or pain
Yet you can pick up just anything
for a bargain in the city—
quick fixes and hired company
What you don’t bargain for
is the heartache, indigestion
or the hunger shortly after
The price of bloated pleasures
is delivered in installments
long after unwrapping a stranger
You see, there’s nothing casual
about intimacy, or passing
through a temple, without bowing
Bodies are like poems, that way
only a fraction of their power
resides in the skin of things.