Zeina Hashem Beck: ‘Careful Not To Use Others’ Suffering in a Poem’

It was so dull, so unpoetic. When I was nine or ten, the literature teacher told me: ″Go pick a poem and memorise it″. That’s ZHB. I think my mother is a performer and she speaks in stories a lot. My Arabic isn′t perfect and I still search for definitions when I read in English. My mother used to tell me all the time, ″You′re a writer.″
Keep reading   at   Qantara. Hashem Beck: Yes. Don′t do it just to write about Syria. Hashem Beck: I think people in Arab countries listen to the news all the time. Why so many poems around experiencing the news? Zeina Hashem Beck: I feel personally that all my languages are broken, because I speak and think in three languages: French, English and Arabic. I don′t listen to it every day, because it depresses me, but I remember, when I was a little girl, whenever we were in my father′s car, he would put on the news. I would never think ″I have to write a poem about Palestine.″
Unless it′s really shaking you to the core, don′t do it. Particularly in the second section of Louder than Hearts, you have ″Terror/Mathematics″, which centres on the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya, followed by ″Inside Out″ for Gaza of July 2014 and after that ″Ghazal: This Hijra″, dedicated to Mosul and Sinjar. Advertisements

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2 replies


June 20, 2017 • 12:52 pm

Motivation and inspiring

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June 20, 2017 • 12:55 pm

Yes! What did you read as a child, that was formative for you? My father also read the newspaper and a big part of my childhood was the news on TV. Why do we speak French and English? Sometimes, when I interview people I’m nervous; sometimes I feel I’m being talked down to (often); but sometimes it’s both illuminating & fun & the person is so bursting with goodness. The sound of the street outside our home was my early literature as well. We didn′t have lots of books around – it was the civil war. As a young child, I didn′t read outside what the school required. I remember going into class and performing it. I skimmed for short poems, the way kids do and found Victor Hugo′s ″Demain, dès l′aube″. Did you read poetry? I continue to learn new words every day. Reply ↓ The same term that could be a slur from someone else – ″broken″ – I embrace it. Be careful to…? Over at Qantara, there is an interview with Dubai-based Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck. You have to be careful with that. And the songs, too. Why the brokenness of languages? That was an important moment. Then you take the language of the news and you subvert it. My parents always sang. What I had to realise is that I can embrace the liminal space and find power in embracing it. Not just reading it, but performing it. Even so, you′ve got to be careful. But I was always attracted to the language of poetry. Hashem Beck: We exist in this world and we listen to the news. The news was so central because of Lebanon′s (1975-1990) civil war? Because of colonialism, of empire. Before, I had this feeling of guilt towards Arabic. Unless I′m really feeling shaken, I won′t write the poem. And I hated the language of the news. Or, if you prefer a podcast, you can listen to Hashem Beck talk about her most recent collections with David Turner on Lunar Poetry Broadcasts:
The interview on Qanatara, with ArabLit’s editor, opens:
You dedicate Louder than Hearts ″to our broken languages & our broken cities″. I identify with the suffering – I have lived through war. I remember how I thought, What′s this that I′m feeling? As a poet, I also feel that I have a responsibility to witness and a responsibility to react to whatever is happening in the news. Hashem Beck: Careful not to use other people′s suffering for a poem. Hashem Beck: I didn′t really read a lot as a child. There were books, but not for my age, so the stories my mother and aunts told were my first literature.