Posts tagged “Halaby

National Poetry Month Has Arrived

April is here; spring is in the air, flowers are starting to bloom, and it’s National Poetry Month!  Each year, Syracuse University Press takes a moment to recognize the work of talented poets by sharing one of our favorite pieces.  Last year we celebrated with Poe and this year we chose to commend one of our own, Laila Halaby.  She is a best-selling novelist and PEN Award winner who entered the world of poetry last year with her first collection my name on his tongue: poemsThrough her poetic words, Halaby forms a touching memoir that speaks to and for a large audience.

Halaby-au pic     home

as a young child
when Home
was where you lived
and where-are-you-from?
was more about your parents
I thought
I belonged
to the Whites
because that
was where
my house was

I pretended
those children
with chisels
in their powdery hands
and spit in their wet pink mouths
didn’t mean to hurt me
as they questioned
my name
my face
my place of birth
my father’s absence

later
when I stared
in the mirror
examined my skin
peeled it back
peeked through
at tissue and veins
and blood
saw who
I really was
I opted
for the Arabs
erased all
whiteness
erased my house
let those warm
dark arms
hold me
love me
make me theirs
build me
a new house

it worked
for a while

until I found
that Home
is inside
not out
that the view changesmy name on his tongue
depending
where I sit
which window
I look out of

mixed blood
is like an old trailer
that’s always frowned at
because no matter where
it’s parked
it’s always
out of place

on the other hand

you can drag it anywhere
if your hitch is strong enough
just be careful
if there’s a hurricane
or tornado
yours
will be the first to go

Happy National Poetry Month!

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Author Spotlight: Laila Halaby

Book: my name on his tongue: poems

Using a narrative style, best-selling novelist Laila Halaby passionately promotes poetry as a means for change. In my name on his tongue, Halaby, who was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and American mother, processes the world through her words and stories. She transforms her personal experiences into moving poems which reflect her insights on peace, war, family, and hope for change. 

The title, my name on his tongue, is very intriguing and piques curiosity among those who pick up your book. Why did you choose this specific title, echoed by unconventional orthography? (e. e. Cummings)

“when we were trying to come up for a title for my second novel, once in a promised land, I remember my editor telling me that I needed to look within the book, that the title was already there.  I did exactly that with my name on his tongue, as it originally had a title that didn’t work well (I can’t remember what it was) and in retrospect it seems as though it was always sitting there waiting for me.”

Displacement seems to be the strongest theme of the book.  Are there multiple intended audiences other than people who are torn between two cultures? 

“I have never written with my audience in mind.  I write what I write and whoever finds it interesting reads it.  I don’t like the idea that only people who have experienced two cultures would want to pick this up.  rather, I’d like to think that anyone would find it accessible.”

What are the most important attributes in creating such a raw, personal , and witty composition of poems? 

“honesty.  sincerity.”

Does the front cover illustration on “my name on his tongue” represent you in any way? 

“no.  not at all.”

Have you done any traveling to inspire your poetry aside from emigrating from Lebanon to the United States?

“I have traveled off and on over the years and some of that wanders into the poems.  pretty much everything wanders into poems.”

Which poem was the easiest to write? The hardest? 

“I’m not sure I can break it down quite so simply.  there were some poems that took more effort to get the words just right (I am thinking ‘taking a moment to thank our sponsors’) and there were others that took more structural effort (‘the journey’ was originally a talk that I gave).  these poems span about twenty years and how I approach poetry, writing in general, has probably changed some over that time.”

Your poems are divided into two chapters: “No matter how much za’atar you eat, you still gotta work to be an Arab/writer/woman” and “My grandma and your grandma were sitting by the fire…” Both reference female struggles- do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

“I’m not good with labels, so no, I don’t consider myself a feminist.  but then I don’t really consider myself an arab-american.  I suppose if I need to be labeled then some of those terms apply, but I don’t think of it that way.  my view of the first section reference my own struggles.  the last section reference struggles in general.”

In your letter to Barack Obama, you wrote “you can see both sides of a situation because you are both sides.” How has navigating between two cultures helped you to view the world differently? 

“being from two worlds means you are given two sets of eyes with which to view the world.  I think it has given me the tools to step out of myself and be able to see situations more clearly — and not just as they relate to culture.”

Your writing in “my name on his tongue” is very stimulating, sometimes wistful, and passionate. Do you consider yourself to be a painter of words or categorize yourself as something other than a writer? 

“a label question.  I write.  I have high standards for myself and take it seriously, but I don’t categorize myself one way or the other.”

Laila Halaby’s my name on his tongue: poems was published last month (May 22) and is available for purchase on the Syracuse University Press website.