New Letters & BkMk Press presents The Red Hijab selected by H. L. Hix as the winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry

                                      The Red Hijab

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.

—This is the second collection by a poet and editor who splits her time between sunny Southern California and bracingly sunnier Bahrain. Indeed, that bright star proves omnipresent in the poetry, accentuating a sense of guarded displacement: “the sun, a bloody cloth / in the anemic sky, is making its way / over to wake my children, who were born in the village of me.” Written from the perspective of an American mired in Middle Eastern other-worldliness, the work simmers with a poignant sense of place. “Lost” opens in a spice souk, the meandering speaker awash in the scent of dried lemon and vanilla beans, but the poem crashes its way into an unexpected torrent of chardonnay. “Together, We Stagger” comments on economic inequality, an experience shared by many on both sides of the globe, by making reference to the Day of Rage, Bahrain’s iteration of the Arab Spring: “Already / police have lined up. Already / tear gas has been issued, forcing / them back into the rooms / of their untranslatable lives.”
   —Booklist Review by Diego Báez

—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

The Red Hijab is available from:
— BkMk Press


  In the Kingdom of the Sons, Winner of the 2011 Liam
                   Rector First Book Prize for Poetry


“Liam Rector would have loved these poems: subtle, deeply felt, and emotionally direct, they embody what Keats meant when he said that the world is a 'Vale of Soul-making.' And the soul that is being made in these poems possesses a rare strength made all the more lavish by the poet's verbal precision and restraint." —Tom Sleigh

"In the Kingdom of the Sons is an extraordinary book. You will not find any sort of fashionable rhetoric or false pyrotechnics in it, nor does it quail from being about something. The poems in Bonnie Bolling’s debut collection are refreshingly inhabited with a voice that is so strong and authentic that the reader doubts nothing and is gladly carried off by a language that is alternately tough and delicately beautiful. As if by some homespun alchemy, Bolling establishes an existential authority to match her quietly deadly verbal prowess. Whether she is capturing the coal-miner’s undernourished daughter in a momentary transfiguration, a boy-soldier bearing his transformative wound home from one of our endless wars, or a woman navigating the howling winds of conflicting love, Bolling consistently shows forth the human heart, both in its struggles and its moments of repose. The experience here seems genuinely earned, the artistry keenly honed. This is a brave book in a time when brave books are needed." —Frank Gaspar

“I admire as well the very mature range of her vision—whether in the snowy north or mid west, in the kitchen or the Persian Gulf, whether interpreting childhood or String Theory—Bolling’s poems have the grit, gravity, and grace to make meaning and music out of experience.” —Christopher Buckley

"In language and a wealth of images as striking as they are revealing, Bonnie Bolling chronicles the seasons of a woman's life—a life she meets and embraces with consummate strength and forbearance. Through adolescence and sexual awakening, wifedom and the birth of four sons, she assumes her place in the natural order of things, finds meaning in her domestic accomplishments. Yet at the end of day, something seems missing, unfinished. Like waiting "for the arctic hare—so white against the snow—to change back into her summer brown," she catches glimpses of another part of herself that yearns toward a different life. The central question she is left with—Did she choose her life or did it choose her?—can only be answered in the poet's gift for finding extraordinary depth and meaning in the ordinary things of everyday life. In the Kingdom of the Sons is a stunning debut."  —Marilyn Johnson



To order In the Kingdom of the Sons (Briery Creek Press, February 3, 2011)
        check online at, or
        email Bonnie at Please use "Kingdom"
             in the subject line.

Copies also available in-store at:


About the Liam Rector First Book Prize

Bonnie's photo by David A. Lipton

   © 2011 Bonnie Bolliing                                                                                                  Web site design by R. Cocco