Marwa Helal

Entropy Lauds Philip Metres’ Sand Opera

Philip Metres’s Sand Opera arrived on bookshelves just days after details surrounding the CIA’s detention and interrogation program were made public. Its release date was very timely. In Sand Opera, Metres employs operatic forms to reveal the truly horrific structures of Abu Ghraib. Read Marwa Helal’s review of Sand Opera and learn more about the collection’s brilliance.

**Timely and Timeless**

In *Sand Opera*, poet Philip Metres places us behind the mirrored glass of the interrogation room to observe his deft dissection of the Standard Operating Procedure used by the U.S. Department of Defense during Desert Storm, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the torture in Guantanamo and other aspects of American war. *Sand Opera* was released shortly after the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was released, proving its subject matter not only timeless, but timely. The first section of the work, “abu ghraib arias” was published in 2011 as a chapbook and received the Arab American National Book Award.

The work, divided into five sections, like an opera, opens with the arias, is followed by recitatives, hung lyres and a final section titled “homefront/removes” which is dedicated to the victims of the terror war, especially Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, who was held and tortured in secret U.S. prisons. Throughout the book, Metres incorporates Bashmilah’s prison drawings and testimony. The arias are composed both of blues poems written from the point of view of American military personnel and from the point of view of Iraqi detainees.

In a recent Los Angeles Review of Books interview with poet Fady Joudah, Metres expands on this: “*Sand Opera* employs the tropes of opera in its structure and themes. The book’s sections, as in classic opera, reference both ‘arias’ and ‘recitatives,’ the two dominant modes of opera, roughly corresponding to lyric and narrative/dramatic modes in poetry.” Each poem delicately draws us into the inner emotional lives of both the faces under the infamous hoods at Abu Ghraib and their tormentors. In the following excerpts, we go inside the minds of the young American torturers as they admit their guilt and also try to rationalize what they did to the Iraqi detainees. 

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