After Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour spent roughly two years either in Israeli jail or under house arrest for her poem, “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” I spent a lot of time thinking about my privilege as a Palestinian poet living in the United States. When she was released on September 20, 2018, a photo of Tatour circulated online. She’s standing outside, clutching a piece of paper, and smiling at a crowd. Each time I look at that photo and see her smile, I am reminded of her bravery and her words, which were loud enough to scare Israeli authorities. They called her “dangerous,” and withheld her access to the internet. Despite this, on the day of her release, she declared, “I regret being sent to prison for a poem, but it will be impossible to stop my writing.”
There is a video on YouTube that features Tatour’s voice as she reads her poem in Arabic over images of Palestinians resisting Israeli authorities and demanding their right to return. The first time I listened to her poem, I was reminded of what’s at stake each time we Palestinian poets write about Palestine, daring to use our voices and pens to fight against the ongoing colonization of our country. I was reminded of my privilege and my responsibility to write about Palestine with as much courage as Tatour. The fact that many of us live outside of Palestine because our country is colonized means our words, and our responsibility to use our words, are urgent and needed.
While attending a reading by Naomi Shihab Nye (list entry follows), I saw myself in her words, and felt I’d come home for the very first time. Hours later, I wrote my first poem about Palestine. I’d found my voice.
The following is a list of Palestinian poets who have made me feel less alone as a Palestinian-American. I’ve spent the last few years in an ongoing search for my people. I am hoping this list will provide a quick way for beginning Palestinian poets to connect to our community, as well as show the larger poetry community that we are here, actively writing and actively resisting.
This list includes Palestinian-American poets who have published full-length books and chapbooks, as well as poets who are actively writing and publishing, but have yet to publish full-length works. This list is not comprehensive.
What does an immigrant call it
when they have no home to go back to?
(“[counter/terrorism]” the specimen’s apology)
The first time I read George Abraham’s work, I was in awe at the ways he is able to interrogate silence. The use of erasure in his work begs us to question what is said and not said. The poems in Al Youm, (the Atlas Review, 2017) place the Queer, Palestinian body at center. I think what’s most fascinating about Abraham’s work is his ability to weave together issues of sexuality, displacement, and inherited trauma. In both Al Youm and the specimen’s apology, the violence inflicted against both the speaker’s body and Palestine become one: “even when the land was ours / it wasn’t / (this is how i feel about my body sometimes)” (“Inheritance,” Al Youm). Abraham’s poems are charged with desire, grief, and a yearning for the homeland. In the specimen’s apology, his words are coupled with beautiful art from Leila Abdelrazaq. Abraham’s words are urgent and we should all be reading him now. @IntifadaBatata
Say it for the U.S. census that calls us white: Palestine.
Say it for the stuttering newscaster: Palestine.
Say it for the bumbling history professor: Palestine
(“Semantics” published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal)
Every time I read one of Jessica Abughattas’ poems, I feel like I need to go set something on fire. Her poems are sharp and weave together issues of family history, faith, and politics.
Her use humor and unexpected turns are always a delight to read. I especially love her poem “All My Life Has Been A Costume Party” (Muzzle Magazine) where she writes, “I figured as long as I have to go on with this existing / I might as well be irresistible, and so // buzzing, I took him / like a small cactus fruit into my mouth.” I’m looking forward to Abughattas’ debut collection. @abugoddess
We all erupt
from a border
(“A Foreign Woman” Lemon Effigies)
Whether she’s detailing the “The tender / ness of air before genocide,” the canaries in Gaza city, or the fig trees in Palestine, Zaina Alsous’ use of detail is unflinchingly beautiful and an act of protest against Palestinian erasure. I especially love her poems centered around womanhood and desire, such as “On Longing,” and “Abortion Fantasy.” The last poem in her chapbook, “Lemon Effigies” is powerful in its interrogation of history, truth, and language. Alsous writes, “My grandfather fled the land when he was eight years old, leaving his mother at home . . . Many will continue to argue leaving and never returning is a choice, not a violence.” Alsous’ debut collection, A Theory of Birds, will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2019. @diasporadical_z
. . . tell her you wake at dawn weeping for figs, and when she writes back she will call you a fool, she will say sister, sister, they’ve turned this land into a grave
(“The Letter Home” Hijra)
Hala Alyan’s poems are unflinching in their depiction of truth. They are tender, yet sharp, overwhelming, yet hopeful. The poems in Hijra are lyrical and haunting, depicting imagery of the Palestinian exodus. Alyan also writes fiction and her words are a constant reminder that the world is both beautiful and devastating at once. Her debut novel, Salt Houses, is a must read. @HalaNAlyan
a cherry tree above an ancient city or
a city inside the hollow of a seed or
The poems in Alyan’s debut collection, Babeldom, exist between dream and reality, the surreal and real. The poems have an easiness to them that’s hard not to fall in love with and the images throughout the book are weird and wonderful. The speaker wanders through the world pondering what questions to ask on a first date and how best to move through this century, which “bores” and “growls / a feral beast.” The speaker is at once trying to escape “a quiet that / won’t move” and overwhelmed, mourning and searching for “answers to a prayer you haven’t yet made.” I love the poems for their subtle humor, their heartbreak, their loneliness. @talalalyan
My son wants to feel warm
Smell the smell of love
Digs deeper to remind me
His toenails are a week too long
I’m always in awe at the vulnerability expressed in Joudah’s poems. I’m thinking, specifically, about the poem “Mimesis” in his book Alight. I love the daughter’s insistence on not killing a spider that has nested “between her bicycle handles” and her patience in waiting until the spider had left before using her bike. The last lines of the poem are “She said that’s how others / Become refugees isn’t it?” This poem is poignant, and what it has to say about humanity, about the hope expressed by the speaker’s daughter, and the current world we live in, is shattering. It’s these types of poems I’ve come to expect from Joudah’s work.
As my mother runs
her wet fingertips into dates
beneath the rinse, my father would
say: americans are
too busy watching good fruit
(“Fruit” published in Up The Staircase Quarterly)
Much of Luthun’s work examines masculinity, violence, and faith. I’ve enjoyed the narrative quality of his work and his ability to tell a story through poems such as “Al-Bahr,” and “Hårb (Or On Waging War in Spite of God).” Aside from his work on the page, Luthun is phenomenal on stage and has been featured on Button Poetry countless times. @tariqLuthun
You don’t think what a little plot of land means
till someone takes it and you can’t go back
(“Everything in Our World Did Not Seem to Fit” Transfer)
Every time I eat maamoul cookies, I think of Naomi’s poem “Gate A-4.” Nye’s poems are tender reminders of the humanity and generosity found in small moments. I often return to Nye’s poems when I need to be reminded of kindness, or when I feel lost within my own writing. I hold onto Transfer because it’s the first book I’d ever picked up by a contemporary Palestinian poet. I think about the possibility and excitement I felt when I first met her, and the gentle way in which she inspired me to write my first poem about Palestine. Nye’s compassion and kindheartedness, which is a hallmark of her poems, have made everything possible.
Jerusalem is the afternoon is the bitterness of two
hundred winter-bare olive trees fallen
in the distance
(“At the Dome of the Rock” Thirteen Departures from the Moon)
Every time I pick up Shehabi’s collection, Thirteen Departures from the Moon, I feel like I’m in Palestine, surrounded by its olive trees and “mountains / that savor the sun at the end of day,” (“The Glistening”). She captures the beauty of Palestine, its morning breeze and “green orchards,” and thrusts this against a backdrop of “soldiers all over, and machine guns, and tear gas,” (“Green Fruit”). It’s the tension between the tenderness of family and the violence of soldiers with which these poems live to capture the reality of life in Palestine for so many people. Her use of the ghazal form throughout the book is stunning and her poems always leave me with the sticky feelings of nostalgia.
. . .umm kulthum cassettes, new colors, geodes, olive pits, bellows, matchstick boxes, another bruise on my thigh, soap bars, matchsticks, the spot of brightness left over in your vision after you’ve looked at something dazzling
(“When Palestinian Children Die I Swear to you they Become —” published in Ellis Review)
Right now, my favorite poem is Tbakhi’s “gaza poem.” I love the poem’s insistence that “god loves us,” as well as its use of space and play on language. Tbakhi’s brilliant use of repetition in many of his poems makes me feel envious. Poems such as “butterfly bullets” pay respect to civilians in Palestine who’ve been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. His poems force us to witness the violence happening against Palestinian bodies every day. Like Abughattas, Tbakhi doesn’t have a book out, but you can keep up with his work by following him on Twitter. @YouKnowFargo
In my language
the word for loss is a wide-open cry
a gaping endless possibility
(“Dhayaa’” Water & Salt)
In Tuffaha’s Water & Salt, a phone call could mean death, a grandmother tells her granddaughter to “let my heart never live a day without you,” and what is considered “newsworthy” or not is interrogated. Tuffaha’s work is fearless and holds nothing back. I can’t stop thinking of the poem “Running Orders,” in which the speaker proclaims, “They call us now, / before they drop the bombs . . .It doesn’t matter / that 58 seconds isn’t long enough / to find your wedding album.” Her poems do what poetry is meant to do: Force us to witness. Water & Salt should be required reading. @LKTuffaha
Noor Hindi (she/her) is a Palestinian-American poet who is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry through the NEOMFA program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Tinderbox Poetry, Glass Poetry, Jet Fuel Review, Diode Poetry Journal, Foundry Journal, & Flock Literary Journal. Her essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Literary Hub and American Poetry Review. Hindi is the assistant poetry editor at The University of Akron Press and a reporter for The Devil Strip Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @MyNrhindi, or visit her website at noorhindi.com.
*Editor’s Note: All author/book photos taken from the authors’ public websites/twitters/bios. Photo credits are unavailable at this time.