She plans her protest
tucks a handkerchief in her satchel
she writes slogans and fold them like flags
she wears that dappled jeans shirt
she never liked and will never again
she checks on her voice;
the one she’s been storing it in a jar
she makes sure no one suspects anything
mother worries too much; forgot her voice in the jar
father sides with gargoyles, till he became one
brother thinks only men go to square and become martyrs
sister thinks it’s not too late to find a husband
she closes the door behind her
knowing her jaw might get broken
by men like her father and brother
her bones might sleep in a dirty cell
guarded by women like sister and mother
she broke the jar and let her voice out
echoing across every square
her the sound of other jars
This is the video of a poem I performed last November for Words And Strings event here in Doha, Qatar.
This is the second time I perform at a poetry event. I am overcoming the anxiety of performing in front of audience. I hope next performance will be better.
I am a poetry writer. I find it very difficult to say that I am a poet. After all I’ve never published a collection of poems. My poems haven’t appeared in famous poetry magazines or websites. The word poet for me is like buying your child size 5 while they are still 3. They will grow into it.
I am a poetry writer. I’m currently writing poems for my assignments. But I wrote my first poem in 2003 and since then I have not stopped. I’m not planning on stopping. When the deadlines stop, I hope I will still sit and write, or try to write.
I am a poetry writer. Sometimes I feel like I arrived to the party late. All the guests have left, all the food was served, and all the decorations were removed. They say that poetry is dead art. And sometimes it does feel frustrating that of all writings, I write the least popular, the least prestigious, and the least profitable. I sometimes do wish I wrote computer programs instead. But then I come to read a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye or watch Suheir Hammad performing one of her poems. I feel that something so powerful, poignant, and so moving can’t be dead. It fills me with this urge to write and write more, to think of what magic tricks words could perform, what messages it could deliver. I know that writing poetry probably won’t take me places. It is not the next big thing for me. But I know it’s THE thing for me.
I am a poetry writer. Sometimes I feel that I wasn’t even invited to the party, but I crashed it anyway. English isn’t my first language. My mother tongue is Arabic.
But my poems chose their own, English. I have loved English since I was 10. I learned it through English songs. Maybe that’s why my poems are in English. But this makes me want to place emphasis that my poems are in English, but they aren’t English. They are everything that I am; Muslim, Palestinian woman of color. This may make people take my poetry less seriously. But I have no interest writing poems like Wordsworth or even T.S Eliot. My poems are like my fingerprints. They distinguish me. They define me.
I am a poetry writer.
And I will keep writing poems; Crappy ones, mediocre ones, excellent ones.
I will probably keep writing poems that will be only published on my personal Facebook page.
I will probably keep writing poems that I only read and like.
I will probably keep writing poems that make me feel that I never want to write again.
I will probably keep writing poems just for the sake of it.
Once you have your kid your priorities do change. But your ambitions don’t. Pregnant and mother students at university days were common to see. And to my then-ignorant mind, I would wonder why would she bother to bring her baby to the lecture? Why would she continue her studies if her children take most of her time? Like I said I was VERY ignorant and stupid. Now that I am student and a mother I understand that society tells you that you either have this or that. But with support you do both and you should have the choice to choose one or both.
I thought of writing this post, because many think that women study to fill time till they get married or have children. While I had my child after I finished my bachelor degree, part of me have always wanted to study further. Having a child changed how I could do it, but haven’t prevented me from doing it.
At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. But once I figured it out, I started looking for options. Master’s in Creative Writing isn’t available in Qatar, and I couldn’t travel to enroll in universities abroad. Luckily I found university that offered Creative Writing degree via correspondence. And it has been very fulfilling.
If you are a mother and a student, here’s some stuff I learned from my ongoing experience:
1-Your ambition if not fulfilled will affect your happiness and that will make you an unhappy mother: the first year I had my daughter I was very confused where I fit in my life as a mother. I loved the idea that I was a mother, but it was taking all of my time. This made me ask the question: “without motherhood, what am I?” I know some people would say being a mother is enough. And it could be true.
However, this wasn’t the case for me. I have always wanted to study further. And I have always loved writing poems. I am still seeking to define myself outside the motherhood cloak. Studying gives me a deep sense of fulfillment. It makes me feel better about myself and this reflects on my parenting.
2-Brace yourself, it’s challenging: parenting on it’s own is very challenging and sometimes very stressful.
When I started my degree, my daughter was less than two years old. That meant that during the day I couldn’t get any reading or writing done. My options were few: waking up early, staying up late or just waiting till the weekend to go to the library.
Being a student and a mother make you look for ways to find time to do your work. Sometimes you fail miserably. Sometime you feel too tired to be up at night or too sleepy to wake up early. I only started having more time when my daughter started going to the nursery when she became 2 and half. But I can guarantee you that the time you spend studying could be like going to spa. The pressure to get things done doesn’t make you procrastinate or slack. There’s more discipline and more seriousness in your pursuit.
3-You do it for yourself and for your family: apart from continuing your studies because you want to (which is great), you do it for your family.
The work market is a fierce and merciless place. If you aren’t well equipped, it will be difficult to find a job. Unfortunately, as a stay-home mom, when they look at your CV; they will see all the years you haven’t been working. They won’t see that you were nourishing and taking care of another human life.
So in that time that you don’t participate in the work-market, you are building your CV and achieving a dream. One can never predict the future; investing in one’s future and education is good planning.
4-You choose: bachelor degree is often considered the thing we do after school. But MA is the thing you do, because you want to. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter when you choose to go back to studying. Whether one year into motherhood or after all of your kids moved on with their lives, what really matters is that you choose to do it when you feel you are ready.
5-Don’t listen to the naysayers: you will hear people undermining your effort by saying, “what’s the point?” or worse “it’s a waste of money”.
It’s sad that to some, education is just a pastime. You should rather surround yourself with people who will give you their support and encouragement. One of the best moments I shared with my husband is the moment I knew I was accepted in the program.
If you are already a mother and student, good luck and keep your chin up.
If you are thinking about it, go for it sis!
If you have already done it, congrats, you inspire us! (and send me some advice).
I don’t claim to be an experienced poet or an expert on poetry. These are observations that I’ve come to realize since I am excited about poetry and I do use social media to promote my poems.
1-Poetry always finds a way: let’s talk about poetry journals, magazines and books. They are those far and formidable fortresses that reject most of commoners, unseasoned poets. Rejection letter after another, poets start searching for an alternative to share their work. And social media, particularly Instagram, has offered this outlet. And it’s not only accessible, it’s also popular and innovative. So poets using social media hardly come as surprise.
2-Social media is changing the form of poetry and its length. And it’s not a bad thing. William Wordsworth would be delighted that in the age of social media his daffodils are on Youtube. Fast pace life requires fast pace poems. Shorter and more poignant poems. And in the age of 140 digits, 1080px photo as a poet you have to accommodate your poems. #Instapoem, #poetrygram are a real thing now. And it’s proven that it has an audience.
3- Poetry is a craft. And that’s what poets on Instagram often forget. While it’s true that social media is game changer for poetry and poets, it’s crucial to remember that poetry is something you learn. It’s a science. You learn its different terminology, its theories, and its craft. Poets are born, but you still need to learn its ins and outs to write better. And believe me, it’s not an easy thing.
4-Don’t mistake diaries for poems. While dairies can be poems in the making, they aren’t poems. And motivational, emotional, and inner thoughts that operate within abstractions fall short to be full-fledged poems. An advice to fellow poets read Ezra Pounds essay on poetry. And start from there.
5-Find a middle ground: people shy away from poetry thinking it has to be perplexing labyrinth of language and thought only understood by the elites . And some people, thanks to some very simplistic shallow poems found on Instagram, think that social media has ruined poetry. It doesn’t have to be this way though. One has to study poetry ,no doubt. Social media isn’t an excuse for mediocre poems. But also one shouldn’t give up writing poetry , because poetry journals are some exclusive clubs.
If you are a poet and write good poetry and read good poetry, you shouldn’t hold it back. But don’t compromise quality because you want to be a popular Instagram poet. And don’t despair because poetry journals are rejecting your poems. Write for yourself first and foremost. And have lots of coffee and self-doubt.
And by the way I have started my own Instagram account where I share my poems Poeticalaspirations
I’ve never intended to let my voice
crackle with sultry tears
while reading this poem
but a mother kissing
the forehead of her dead child
took over my chimes
I’ve never intended to sound
like laboring lava
while reading this poem
but a soldier’s strip-search and spits
a cop’s stop and frisk
made me erupt
I’ve never intended to close
my eyes and lose breath
while reading this poem
but my boat is sinking
washing me ashore, face down in sand
I’ve never intended to write this poem
This article was originally published as part of “Life in Occupied Palestine” a special issue of Biography: A Interdisciplinary Quarterly.
I often wrote about how politics and personal life always collide . It’s been four years since I left Gaza and I’ve not been able to visit it. There’s no doubt that the suffering of those who live in Gaza is much worse than Palestinians who live outside of it. But in the article, I wrote about how it affects me and my family since it’s been almost impossible to see family anywhere (not in Gaza or Qatar).
A very long, a very hot summer is approaching Qatar, where I currently live. Some forced hibernation is awaiting me, since the heat is unforgiving. Yet summer is the time people look forward to the most, because, unlike me, they are going home to be with their families and friends.
When my friends ask me “Why are you staying behind? Why don’t you go home?,” my mind starts whirling, for how am I going to explain how I am being stripped of the very basic, the very ordinary, the very human right to be reunited with my family in Gaza-Palestine.
I could start by explaining that Gaza has two passages assigned for travelling. One is controlled by Israel and the other is controlled by Egypt. Jawed between the occupying power, Israel, which has been laying a very strict siege upon Gaza for more than seven years, and the unstable Egypt, which has been isolating Gaza ever since it reverted to military rule, Gaza is locked.
Israel lets very few people out of Gaza, and even fewer people in. The Rafah crossing, which is controlled by Egypt, has always been Gaza’s only outlet to the world. The crossing had its good days, when Egypt was under Morsi’s rule. But since the Egyptian military took over and started cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood at home, they have viewed Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, as an extension of the banned group. As a result, the military government headed by General Sisi is suffocating Gaza by destroying the tunnels, and by constantly closing the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only passage to the world. And when Egypt does open the crossing, it’s for a few hours, for two or three days. The trip is mired with humiliation, danger, and uncertainty.
So how can one, with a child, go home, when all these thrones are engulfing it?
I’ve been locked out for two years now. Ever since I left Gaza in 2011 with my husband to come to live in Qatar, I have not had the chance to pay home a single visit. [End Page 474]
There’s nothing worse than the feeling of bitterness that results from such forced exile. It’s the bitterness of being a daughter, a sister, and a friend on Skype and Facebook. It’s the bitterness of missing good moments with family. It’s the bitterness of not being there when needed. It’s the bitterness of not being there when you want to. It’s the bitterness of sorely missing your loved ones so dear that you look for all sorts of options just to meet for even a week. Worst of all, it’s the bitterness that all this is happening just because I am a Palestinian from Gaza.
When I was pregnant, I fancied giving birth in Gaza. But that wasn’t possible. After I gave birth, I fancied throwing my daughter’s first birthday party in Gaza. That wasn’t possible either. I fancied taking her to the sea, to play in the sand with her grandparents.
For five years, Gaza was subjected to brutal Israeli attacks that left more than two thousand Palestinians killed. The most recent attack was operation “Protective Edge.” This war left enormous physical, psychological, and economic damage. Though it ended with the signing of a ceasefire agreement, after fifty-one deadly days, the situation of the Gaza siege remains intact. There was hope among Palestinians in Gaza that their sacrifices would eventually mean that the siege would be ended once and for all. But yet again Israel, colluding with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, refuse to give Palestinians in Gaza their freedom to move in and out of Gaza.
Gaza now isn’t only a scene of apocalyptic destruction, it’s also a scene of a human tragedy, as survivors have to deal with thousands of wounded, displaced, and traumatized, with no way in or out of the Strip.
My family, fortunately, survived. During this war, I had serious fears that after I hung up, that would have been the last call with them or the last time I see them on Skype.
With this cycle of wars on Gaza, followed by inaction to end the siege, I wonder when I am going to see my family again. I wonder where I am going to see them. Visiting Gaza with a toddler is a risky mission, and my family visiting me would involve a long journey of waiting for crossings to open and visas to be issued.
I am locked out, and the people of Gaza are locked in. And we are both waiting, desperately waiting, for the day where we can just be together at home. Till then, one only has the secret whispers of prayers that this all ends. There’s nothing worse than the bitterness of being considered a lesser human. That’s what occupation does. It’s what Israel does, and what we have endured, whether we’re in Palestine or in exile. [End Page 475]
Read more stories and narratives published in this series here.