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E.G. Asher’s Natality is a book-length tour-de-force of language, storytelling, and erudition, in which the mythic meets the modern. Throughout the collection, Asher seamlessly weaves rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary interpretations of the biblical account of Hagar and Sarai alongside their own lyric response, creating a fractal rendition of the tale. Whether through force of argument or form, Natality is consistently surprising, restless, and daring in its execution and in what it has to say. In this, their first book, Asher offers a timely and necessary cultural critique—exposing the contradictions and failings at the centre of the Hagar-Sarai story and entreating that we “find ourselves in the wounds of another.”
E. G. Asher’s Natality is a visionary narrative built from fragments of “Abrahamic lore” and “nomadic variants of folktale.” It moves fluidly between the mythic wilderness at the heart of scripture and the landscapes of contemporary gender trouble, and does so by reimagining the strained relationship between Abram’s wife Sarai and her handmaid Hagar. Narrated by a speaker who fashions a gender out of the wounds these women deal each other, the psychological violence that binds them becomes both a site of autobiography and also a demonstration of how “I Fabricated My Own Femininity” out of brilliant artifice. Because everyone needs “a body to be messy in,” and because that body often belongs to someone else, each of us needs this book as a fearless guide to the kind of intense intimacy from which emerges “a goldleafed wolf Tenderly tenderly.”
Reader, Natality is a rarity in contemporary American poetry — an epic poem. An epic poem whose structure (centered columns of text) and technique (typographical play and syntactical slippage) enacts one of its arguments: a story contains many stories. E.G. Asher pries open the Biblical narrative of Hagar and Sarai to reveal Renasiance paintings, the personal, philosophy, and even CGI birds. Asher reminds us language is a nexus unmoored from time, bristling with endless possibilities. Reader, this poem is mesmerizing. Reader, read this poem ‘to find yourself in the wounds of another,’ to hear how ‘a voice unstrung from the body is still an instrument.