A Palestinian-American Poet’s Virtual Book Tour and More Poems for Gaza

Yesterday on The Huffington Post, Anis Shivani introduced three emerging poets who have books scheduled for release in early 2011. One of them was the Palestinian-American poet Deema Shehabi, whose debut collection, Thirteen Departures from the Moon, is set to come out from Press 53 in March.

In her brief (text) introduction, she writes:

It was only when I turned to poetry that I found comfort because it anchored me in my exile. It provided me with respite from that gnawing feeling of loss. Or perhaps, it was in writing that I felt more displaced from norms of experience, so it was more honest than artificial normalization (ie assimilation, acculturation).

I can’t say I’m a fan of the “virtual tour” format; some readers might enjoy browsing through various poets’ video profiles, but to me it’s too much like a dating service and too little like a literary salon.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy some moments in Shehabi’s video reading, for instance from “Helwa Stories,” which originally appeared in The Massachusetts Review but is not available (in print) online.

I found Shehabi best when she was enjoying the density of language and the richness and contrasts of the natural world, as in the opening stanzas of her “Lights Across the Dead Sea”:

Where were we
if not at the beginning?
The wind ambled
off the salt water,
the distance fractured
our gaze without a blink,
and the moon rushed
into the dark rouge of the hills.
Imagine, I said, if those hills
were still ours.
But you had already counted
the bone bites
of a lost country,
opened each page
of those wounds to full glow.

The calm was too far off
to be remembered—
All around us: leftover
stones, look-alike
orchards full of lemons
and guavas,
white bolts of bandaged
morning still trembling
on their lips,
their grassy lashes glaring
across makeshift coffins:
why do we carry
those children in the blur

Keep reading the poem at Drunken Boat.

Indeed, Shehabi has told The Institute of Middle East Understanding that her earliest memory was the contrast between landscapes of Kuwait, where her family lived in exile, and the “‘lushness of the orange and lemon groves’ that she saw in Gaza when she visited there. ‘It was heaven.'”

Watch Shehabi on Vimeo:

Her “channel” here.

More poetry by Shehabi:

Valparaiso Poetry Review
Of Harvest and Flight

Drunken Boat
Portrait of Summer in Bossey, 15 Years Since Her Death

Flight Over Water

Light in the Orchard

DMQ Review

Morning’s Opal

More Poetry for Gaza

From Suheir Hammad, a poet who thrives in the video format:

From Ibrahim Muhawa’s translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief, the section titled “Silence for the Sake of Gaza.”

Gaza is not the most beautiful of cities.

Her coast is not bluer than those of other Arab cities.

Her oranges are not the best in the Mediterranean.

Gaza is not the richest of cities.

(Fish and oranges and sand and tents forsaken by the winds, smuggled goods and hands for hire.)

And Gaza is not the most polished of cities, or the largest. But she is equivalent to the history of a nation, because she is the most repulsive among us in the eyes of the enemy – the poorest, the most desperate, and the most ferocious. Because she is a nightmare. Because she is oranges that explode, children without a childhood, aged men without an old age, and women without desire. Because she is all that, she is the most beautiful among us, the purest, the richest, and most worthy of love.

We are unfair to her when we search for her poems. Let us not disfigure the beauty of Gaza. The most beautiful thing in her is that she is free of poetry at a time when the rest of us tried to gain victory with poems. We believed ourselves and rejoiced when we saw that the enemy had left us alone to sing our songs while we left victory for him. When we dried the poems from our lips we saw that the enemy had already built entire cities, forts, and highways.

The rest is available from Archipelago. You can read the book’s opening section here.

And, from the U.S. visual-art world, for those who missed it:

Gallery Patrons Ejected Over Gaza Flotilla T-Shirts