Editor's Note: The Cluster received an Advance Reader Copy from Half Mystic Press to review.
Hazem Fahmy’s sophomore poetry collection, “Waiting for Frank Ocean in Cairo,” is a four-year journey across time and place — and one artist’s discography. At the center of a swarm of poems grappling with family, identity, politics and existential meaning, Fahmy spins with readers to Frank Ocean’s records.
The title knits together the three threads that unravel this collection of poems. First, notably, Fahmy name-drops the incredibly influential singer Frank Ocean. In a sense, it’s a literal title: Fahmy was anticipating the release of “Blonde” while he was home in Cairo.
Fahmy is more than just a fan of Ocean, though. In these poems, Fahmy and Ocean are creative equals in dialogue with each other, exchanging language and ideas.
“I felt strongly that his seamless blend of the colloquial with dense, rich imagery and metaphor was a literary ethos that I’d want to guide my own work,” Fahmy said in an interview with Kate Wilson of Half Mystic Press about Ocean’s influence.
Fahmy’s collaboration with Ocean is not limited to the way he applies Ocean’s song titles to poem titles. A few of the poems are collage poems, meaning that they are constructed entirely out of Ocean’s lyrics, picked from different songs and patched together to invent new meanings in the context of Fahmy’s collection. Lyrics are also sprinkled throughout other poems.
The second thread linking these poems is Cairo, which the poet calls home. In Cairo lives Fahmy’s family, friends, culture, late night drives and tender memories, like the first time he listened to “Blonde.”
“For me, Cairo will always be Home with a capital ‘H,’” Fahmy said. “It is, in a sense, the starting point without which none of my other ‘homes’ would ever make sense.”
But home is complicated and multitudinous. In Cairo, “Everyone / knows I am American, and Americanized. The / second is perhaps more important,” Fahmy writes in “On the Highway, to the Tune of ‘Nights.’” Fahmy’s house is where he “stopped speaking / of love in” (“Frank Ocean Haunts Me Across a Decade,” my favorite poem from this collection). And New York, too, is one of Fahmy’s homes, for the sincere love of his friends who live there.
Finally, the third thread: waiting. It feels as though the poet is holding his breath through most of this collection. He waited for the release of “Blonde.” He waited for his father’s rage. He waited for Americans to ask him about being Muslim and for his relatives and friends to ask him what kind of American he’d become. He waited to belong somewhere and to someone.
And then: “I no longer / await the day I will be happy. A stupid kind of progress” (“Frank Haunts Me Across a Decade”). Gradually, Fahmy begins to heal himself and his relationships.
The collection does not exactly end on a sound resolution, but that’s not necessarily what Fahmy desires anymore. He’s leaned into the healing powers of love, forgiveness and community. In the swarm, Fahmy has found some sort of stable footing. He trusts himself—no longer someone else’s hands—when his mother tells him in the final poem that he and his brother are “big boys now. / You can figure it out / for yourselves” (“Portrait of My Father as the Laundry Machine”).
“Waiting for Frank Ocean in Cairo” can be pre-ordered from Half Mystic Press’s bookshop. To further add to Hazen Fahmy's poems, stream Frank Ocean while you read. Support more of Fahmy’s work via his website.
Ivy Marie Clarke ‘22 is an English literature and creative writing double major, double minoring in art and women’s and gender studies. She has served as editor of the Arts & Culture section of The Cluster for the last two years. She also interns with Macon Magazine and Mercer University Press and edits for The Dulcimer. She also enjoys drinking coffee and writing poetry.