where the writers are
Record! I am Arab!-------------I too Sing America-- -----How can poetry be so, so....? direct?

Nothing will carry us: not the road, nor home.

Was this road the same from the start,

or did our dreams find a mare among the horses

of the Mongols on the hill, and trade us off?

And what

are we to do, then?


are we

to do



From Without Exile by Mahmoud Darwish, tr by Anthon Shammas


O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath--

America will be!


Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain--

All, all the stretch of these great green states--

And make America again!

Langston Hughes


Coincidentally just after the death of Mahmoud Darwish, I embark on teaching a new class called Outsider Poetry: Renaissance to Rap; Hughes to Hammad. Basically we explore the writings of poets of color in the U.S and develop a language and lens with which to discuss their work. I am asking the students in the class to steer from comparing these writers works with the "literary canon." In our literature department, we are not inclusive, so this opportunity to examine these writers as 'American' poets is far and few between.

So how does Darwish fit into my thinking about this. Like many, I have been re-reading his work, as a kind of tribute to his life, as a way of reminding me how he became and idol and mentor to me, like Langston Hughes, who as I was growing up, seemed to be the only poet I really understood.

Some find these poets, polemical, poets of conscious and resistance; they find the language plain and rhetorical, the message over the art etc. Whose art? of course is the question. Conventional conventions do not apply when a poem is sung from the heart about matters of justice and love. So how do we include the poems that sing I am Arab?

i am suggesting two approaches. One is to remember how Aristotle reminded us of the forces of writing were based on unity and the relationship to the existing world. The second is to know that the forces of poetry do not necessarily subscribe to the conventions of western literature, even experimental western literature. Historically, culturally we find the extra-literary elements such as politics, music, prayer, testimony, witnessing, interpretation and persuasion--and on and on. The students will find their own inroads as well.

So back to Darwish, and Brooks, and Santiago Baca, and Baraka, Troupe, Harrara. Mattawa, Nye, Shenoda, Shehabi, Knight, Cervantes, Forman, Hammad, Handal, Williams, Joseph, Finney, Perdomo, Marshall, and Jordan, Mehlem, and Inada, etc etc etc and my poetic heroes. We too sing America!

and being Arab




3 Comment count
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i want to take your class!

It sounds fabulous!  Wonderful familiar names, plus the temptation of names I don't know, whose work is just waiting to be "discovered" . . .   : )  Your students are really lucky to have this rare opportunity.

Apropos of nothing but your reading list: I'm excited that I'll be hearing Nye read next month at the Dodge Poetry Festival!

Best of luck with your course!

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I'm Forwarding this post to Marilyn Hacker

Hacker will be most interested. She's taking Arabic right now in Paris, 6 hours a day, and translating
Algerian writers.

I'd like to echo Evie's sentiments as well. Rock on!

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Thanks for the reading list!

I enjoy your posts Elmaz. There are many kinds of outsiders in America. I'm pretty "white" and feel like an outsider myself. The poetry of Langston Hughes always spoke to me when I read him in my inner city school in Detroit. He captured what being poor in the city can do to harm most people's souls. I still say what I believe in and can change my mind if I hear reason from another viewpoint thanks to him.

Ruth :)