Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fady Joudah inteview and poem

Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American doctor, and member of RAWI, and, I am proud to say, a friend, has published his first book, Earth in the Attic (Yale 2008).

From an article by Fritz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle entitled, "Healing verse: Palestinian-American doctor turns suffering into song, wins top U.S. prize," quoting Fady Joudah, the recent Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, and Arab-American.
"I wanted to do something different with poetry in the sense that as a son of refugees, exile for me was not a metaphorical state, it was a lineage," he said. "All of my aunts and uncles have lived true refugee lives.

"I wanted to engage the concept of the stateless person as a theme. For me, being a physician, patients are displaced people, at least momentarily. I wanted to take that to a larger stage, a world stage. I somehow knew this didn't exist in English literature, at least the way I'm doing it."

The task, he knew, was fraught with pitfalls. He worried about falling into "narcissistic pity." He worried about sensationalizing ("I'm still very paranoid about how much I failed to avoid that in my manuscript") or transforming suffering into an op-ed moment. He worried about categorizing and dehumanizing refugees, putting them in a box readers could safely tuck away under the bed.

"I know our most natural tendency when we speak about the Other is to isolate ourselves as if we had nothing to do with them — they're far away, in a different situation. I wanted the reader to feel we can't just stop with the 'they.' "

Here's a poem from the collection, reprinted by Poetry Daily (thanks!):


The end of the road is a beautiful mirage:

White jeeps with mottos, white
And blue tarps where the dust gnaws
At your nostrils like a locust cloud
Or a helicopter thrashing the earth,
Wheat grains peppering the sky.

For now
Let me tell you a fable:

Why the road is lunar
Goes back to the days when strangers
Sealed a bid from the despot to build
The only path that courses through
The desert of the people.

The tyrant secretly sent
His men to mix hand grenades
With asphalt and gravel,
Then hid the button
That would detonate the road.

These are villages and these are trees
A thousand years old,
Or the souls of trees,
Their high branches axed and dangled

Like lynched men flanking the wadis,
Closer now to a camel's neck
And paradoxical chew.

And the villages:
Children packed in a hut
Then burned or hung on bayonets,
Truck tires

Anchoring acacia limbs as checkpoints.
And only animals return:
The monkeys dash to the road's edge and back
Into the alleyways,

And by a doorstep a hawk dives
And snatches a serpent—your eyes
Twitch in saccades and staccatos:

This blue crested hoopoe is whizzing ahead of us
From bough to bough,
The hummingbird wings

Like fighter jets
Refueling in midair.

If you believe the hoopoe
Is good omen,

The driver says,
Then you are one of us.

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