Invasive species
Invasive species
Poetry | $16.95
paperback, 140 pages, 6 x 9
Publication Date: 2019
ISBN: 978-1-937658-93-9

A vernacular debut that uncompromisingly journeys towards its sole destination: the decolonization of the imagination 

In Invasive species, Marwa Helal’s searing politically charged poems touch on our collective humanity and build new pathways for empathy, etching themselves into memory. This work centers on urgent themes in our cultural landscape, creating space for unseen victims of discriminatory foreign (read: immigration) policy: migrants, refugees—the displaced. Helal transfers lived experiences of dislocation and relocation onto the reader by obscuring borders through language.


"Marwa Helal voyages across borders of genre, form, and faith to deliver us beyond simple citizenship and into a higher understanding of our leaving note dreams. These poems are travelin’ papers—inventive, hard fought, sweat swollen passports into am America that bristles with hope through the same mouth that curses it’s home-grown. This is the arrival of a poet whose work huddles you in like a small and human shelter, squares you by the shoulder, looks you in the eye until you find yourself saying it with her—i’ve grown tired of keeping a safe distance."—TYEHIMBA JESS

"If poetry is a history of the people, Invasive species is a critical chronicle of our times. Marwa Helal’s work uncovers the personal toll of policies and language derived in exceedingly white and oppressive vacuums. Helal unflinchingly delivers a combustible amalgam of docupoetics, memoir and formal innovation that enacts the heartache of longing for rest in an unwelcoming land—a land where no one truly sees you yet everyone knows you’re there. This debut is a brilliant light that exposes the rusty apparatus of the colonizer’s toolbox while deepening the ongoing conversation around immigration, boundary and human rights."—AIREA D MATTHEWS

"Inventive. Undomesticated. Invasive species is a lively reworking of English, its deadly syntax of interrogation, of interview, questionnaire, cubicle, and cartography through a “beast of no nation.” Written of distance, in displacement, Helal’s poems require a new language, a language she builds nimbly, steadily. The result is gorgeous and gutting, rising to its own invocation, “let every letter represent a human standing in protest,” inviting us to rise as well."—SOLMAZ SHARIF


"This ambitious, groundbreaking book of poetry is the first full-length collection from poet and journalist Helal, who arrived in the U.S. from Egypt as a child and has experienced firsthand the violent policing of migration. Helal’s incisive lyrics cut to the core of persistent issues and explode boundaries between genres, combining sparse new forms with newspaper scans, blank maps, scholarly abstracts, and official correspondence. Centered around a long hybrid section called “Immigration as a Second Language,” Helal's collection blends verse and prose, memoir and reportage to recount the troubled passage from Egypt, through customs, and back again, a process that requires breathing human beings to define themselves through bureaucracies over and over again. Footnotes and citations complicate the relationship between author, text, and audience, as the book defiantly refuses to categorize itself: “journalism is the work of the sleeping. poetry is the work of the dreaming.” Helal has succeeded in generating poetry that is uniquely African, Arabic, and American. Highly recommended, together with Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come for Us (2018) and Solmaz Sharif’s Look (2016)."—Diego Báez, ALA Booklist Starred Review

"Physical, psycho-spiritual, and linguistic displacement form a nexus of poetic lines that course through this restless, memoiristic, and deeply felt debut from Helal. The book opens and closes with sections of short, plainspoken poems and blocks of runaway, breathless, form-shifting prose texts. Meanwhile, the core hinges on an abecedarian mini-memoir of Helal’s family emigration from Egypt to the U.S., and her subsequent travels back and forth as she navigates 912.5 days of a dehumanizing and bureaucratic visa process to remain in “A country that fakes left but passes a hard right.” Much of the collection takes place in cars, airports, waiting rooms; in dreams and songs; and in inventively reworked immigration documents. In this latter form, Helal reverses expectations (and syntax) and deflects the unidirectional flow of state authority with a biting sense of humor that jumps from threat to cartoonish mockery to near despair, her only constant a dead-aim of purpose: “these motherfuckers have a green card lottery while refugee babies wash up drowned at sea.” Drawing on influences as disparate as June Jordan, DJ Khaled, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics, Helal finds in poetry something that goes beyond resistance or balm, and might even approach hope."—Publishers Weekly

"In the poem titled “I,” from the second section of Invasive species,” Helal gives us dictionary definitions of “naturalization,” the second of which reads: “to introduce (organisms) into a region and cause them to flourish as if native.” This section is titled “Immigration as a Second Language,” which is that deep look at the US immigration system I mentioned above, and it’s this rhetorical contrast which drives much of my appreciation for this book. The metaphor the US government uses to describe immigration is similar to that dictionary definition, as if immigrants into the US are samples of flora and fauna gathered from all parts of the world, introduced into new habitats here where they can flourish and be a source of joy to the local population."—Brian Spears, The Rumpus

 "But Invasive species also reimagines the conventions we have come to expect from poetry. It’s as if Helal proposes that, in this instance too, we should re-examine the confines of definition and the rules that restrict belonging."—Rigoberto Gonález, On the Seawall

“Helal pushes against artifice, or perhaps more accurately, she seems most interested in what happens when the fourth wall dissolves – when writer and audience actually see each other, eye to eye.”—Irène P. Mathieu, Muzzle Magazine
"Candid and confident about its ecosystems of influence, at times wildly omnivorous and polylingual, purposefully pedestrian at others, the lyrical avatar of Invasive species is one whose existential impulse seems to be rabid availability—to the poet’s multitude of peoples and places—negotiated crossways by a slick, uppercutting investment in infiltration rather than naturalization, divergence (not “diversity”), and didacticism as a form of information smuggling. Helal’s is a work that could be described as attempting to alchemize M. NourbeSe Philip’s and June Jordan’s expressly stated needs—Nourbese Philip’s to “mess with the lyric” and Jordan’s “to speak about living room.” Invasive species swiftly takes its place among those volumes that have been donned with the epithet of “linguistically playful” but would more aptly be called linguistically displaced and reparative, formally discontented, prescriptively disinterested, and necessarily chimaeric. A scrubbing restlessness—and the question of what space of respite exists for it—infuses Helal’s utterance and demand for utterance"—Justin Phillip Reed, Adroit Journal