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Alen Hamza’s “Twice There Was a Country” Wins the 15 Bytes Book Award for Poetry

Artists of Utah is excited to announce that Alen Hamza’s Twice There Was a Country has won the 15 Bytes Book Award for Poetry for 2021. Published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, the collection is a moving, lyrical portrait of a refugee stumbling his way towards the future while haunted by the past.

Hamza immigrated to the United States as a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina at the age of 15. As our jurors write, “He discovered the English language on the cusp of adulthood, immersing himself into a new world of sounds, navigating what can and cannot be said in one language or another. His poems also explore what can or cannot be lived in one country or another. “I went to sheets with a new language,” he writes in one poem, “and my old country sighed.”

At times, Hamza’s poetry is grounded in direct and plain language, supporting concrete observations like, “The greatest impediment to happiness is imagining/other people’s lives as better than our own.” But it can shift to more ethereal, evocative language stirring up wonderfully haunting images like, “I am the library which cannot dream, a decade unchecked, copulating with dust.”

Hamza received fellowships from the Michener Center for Writers, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the University of Utah. He is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Utah.

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