Thomas Fucaloro catches up with Hala Alyan.
What another great day for media......we are gonna jump ahead a little in the anthology and look at the poem "Poppy Seeds" by Hala Alyan. She has a new book out from Three Rooms Press. Look on their website for more details. Hala's poem in this anthology is a beautiful breath of soft air in a hard world. There is some archaic sounds in here which I think really add to the poems wealth such as, "I keep you as I keep mirrors:/ luxury, self-shroud—". It's lines like that keep feeding the poet in me more and then it breaks off into this beautifully soft sounding line, "Little tunnel/I keep you like a wish in reverse". Elegant and beautiful. I had a chance to do an interview with Hala and here is what she had to say...
TF: So you’ve just released your first book through our great friends at Three Rooms Press called Atrium. Can you talk a little about your process approaching the book?
HA: About half the pieces are from my time as an undergraduate student at the American University of Beirut, pieces which, in the process of putting together the manuscript, I reworked somewhat. The other half were poems that I wrote in the year before publishing, soon after I was approached by Three Rooms Press. It was a very exciting and inspiring process.
TF: Being a Palestinian-American poet, do you find that there are fewer opportunities or more opportunities for you in terms of the business of poetry?
HA: I don’t really know. People in the poetry community that I’ve come across have been very supportive and interested in my background, but in terms of the business I can’t really say either way.
TF: When did this love of poetry begin for you? Who would you cite, besides me of course (haha), as your biggest influences as a writer?
HA:I’ve been writing since I was a child. I’ve always been fascinated with the power of language and creative expression. Some influences (besides you, of course) are: Anne Sexton, Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda, Louise Glück, Stephen Dobyns, Charles Bukowski, Naomi Shihab Nye.
TF: Do you write bilingual poetry and if so is that something that comes naturally to you?
HA: I don’t write poetry in Arabic, although I hope to someday be fluent enough in classical Arabic to be able to express myself creatively with it. When I was in high school, I wrote several poems in French; but my French was much stronger back then! Again, I hope to strengthen it at some point. It would be lovely to be able to rely on multiple languages to create poetry.
TF: So let’s talk about your poem "Poppy Seeds" in the new It’s Animal but Merciful anthology. What was its inspiration?
HA: I was interested in creating a piece that approached the tried-and-true topic of love through the lens of reworked mythology, particularly by relying on female characters that crop up in storytelling.
TF: You use a lot of space in it. Is there a reason for this, and how will it translate to performance?
HA: I’m a very visual person and I love experimenting with word placement; I tend to be cognizant of the aesthetics on paper. In terms of performance, I definitely take cues from the spatial presentation of words, in terms of pauses, emphasis, pace, etc.
TF: I love the line “...You are a map/ a crumb trail of mist/ to hurricane.” I really enjoy when nouns are used like verbs like the word hurricane. Is that something you find interesting? Changing the feel of a word but not its meaning?
HA: Thank you! I do love doing that, finding the distorted mirror images of words, using them in different ways. That tends to be something I’m attracted to in others’ poetry—startling, elegant transformations of words.
TF: There are lots of short and precise sentences in this poem. Can you elaborate on your process and how you were able to edit off that unnecessary poet fat?
HA: I usually start a poem with a certain phrase or image in mind, and then build upon it. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly drawn to precise, crisp language in poetry and fiction, and I think it might just be a result of reading a lot of work by poets who tend to be less verbose. I still adore adverbs and long, detailed descriptions, but I have, increasingly, began to ask myself whether a certain stanza or sentence could be just as effective if certain words were removed.
Hala's poem "Poppy Seeds" is published in our anthology It's Animal but Merciful
Hala will be reading at the JujoMukti Tea Lounge on November 11th