Exiles of Eden

Poetry by Ladan Osman

May 7, 2019 • 6 x 9 • 96 pages • 978-1-56689-544-6

Poems steeped in the Somali tradition refract the streets of Ferguson, the halls of Guantánamo, and the fields near Abu Ghraib through the myth of Adam and Eve to ask: What does it mean to be a refugee?

Exiles of Eden looks at the origin story of Adam, Eve, and their exile from the Garden of Eden, exploring displacement and alienation from its mythological origins to the present. In this formally experimental collection steeped in Somali narrative tradition, Osman gives voice to the experiences and traumas of displaced people over multiple generations. The characters in these poems encounter exile’s strangeness while processing the profoundly isolating experience of knowing that once you are sent out of Eden, you can’t go back.

About the Author

Ladan Osman, Somali-born poet and essayist, is the author of The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (University of Nebraska Press 2015), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, and the chapbook Ordinary Heaven, which appeared in the box set Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press 2014).


“Exile here is a daily longing, a gift and curse of an outsider eye, an experience that grapples with the word ‘relative’ in all its meanings.” —The Adirondack Review

“Ladan Osman has an abundance of talent, and she is one of a kind. There is informed wisdom to her poetry, which, on top of being moving, inspires the reader with positive thinking. A wonderful collection.” —Nuruddin Farah

“A generous, rooted, and humbly adamant quest for agency.” —Publisher's Weekly

“Ladan Osman is a poet of wonder and inquiry. Her wonder is muscular and thorough, and requires an inventory of the known, a charting of what is lost, and the incantation of desire. In her second full-length collection, Exiles of Eden, even the presumed paradisial qualities of the garden before the fall are called into question. The marriage, the homelands, the underworlds that exile Osman’s speakers must be named, circumscribed, and if possible, released, or if not, borne along the curves of the body. Exile demands ‘better myths,’ demands letting go of ‘our half-life,’ that her speakers ‘may . . . make so many things.’ Here there is pain and music and thirst and the refusal to bend into a narrative these women have not shaped for themselves.” —Donika Kelly 

“Ladan Osman is one of the most alive minds in poetry today. Under her supreme gaze, the ordinary is allowed safe passage into strangeness and the surreal is domesticated without losing its innate chaos. Whether with the pen or with the lens, everything is lifted to a higher, fantastic dimension in the frame of Osman’s looking. Exiles of Eden scares me. It’s that good. I didn’t know you could do with language what Osman does, but thank the gods she did.” —Danez Smith 

“Pain is not located in an identifiable muscle only, but in a person, a relationship, all to a living. Ladan Osman can identify the physical muscles of an emotion as well as the pain come of the lack of its exercise: the lack of a sister’s companionship, missing a mother, missing the love in a marriage. The pain of not belonging becomes more than the place. She does the remarkable thing of detailing pain as places of departure, from a marriage, from a country. Places of departure from justice, from morality, from humanity itself follow. The book concludes in a ceremony of restoration well worth witnessing. Her journey will show itself to have been toward a necessary insight. Not the most painless route, but an excellent book of poems.” —Ed Roberson

Praise for Ladan Osman

“In a world that too often plugs its ears to voices it thinks unworthy, Osman shows that it’s actually more inappropriate to be decorous.” —Chicago Tribune

“True visionary poets are very rare. Ladan Osman is one. What she sees is extraordinary, and needful.” —Brigit Pegeen Kelly

“Osman is a worldly and acutely sensitive writer who knows how to reach right through the sequined veil of fashion and put her hand squarely on the reader’s heart, with frank and candid expression, with unaffected wonder.” —Ted Kooser

“Osman is a warrior poet, and she is dangerous because she is especially gifted and disciplined about her craft.” —Kwame Dawes