I just started reading Suheir Hammad’s breaking poems yesterday evening, and already, it’s so great to witness all of this breaking. Her syntax is broken, her lines are clipped, and her poems are bombardments of images and words, demonstrations of brokenness and piecing together of selves, of languages, histories, and geographies. I am totally loving that in her poems, it’s no longer necessary to speak in argument convincing sentences; the fact of her being, speaking, the fact of her family’s, her communities’, the fact of women surviving in Palestine, in Iraq, in New Orleans, is argument enough.
Hammad brings into her poems words in the Arabic language in a way I’ve never seen her do before; such “basic” words as “I” and “and,” in addition to “fire,” and “war,” among many others, just well-placed and punctuating the poems. I have gotten to the point in my reading that if I do not see the English words for “I” and “and” anymore, then it is understandable, and it also corresponds to the music she’s established throughout the collection in these clipped lines, stripped of all the fat and fluff, where these English and Arabic words, infused with Hip-Hop, urban street language, are popping in your mouth as you speak them.
Really, the point of the collection thus far for me has been the reassembling of the many selves, in a continuum of war against poor people, against folks of color, against immigrants, against women, and the self is all of these things which cannot be extricated from one another.
And so for those American poets who doubt the existence or relevance of well-written political poetry in the USA, for those who think “political poetry” is just a fad, I would say to leave your comfy little academic and abstract circles and open your minds to poets coming out of communities of color, immigrant communities, multilingual communities, communities of working folk and families, these American poets’ communities, and see that “political poetry” has always existed, has always been necessary, has always been crafted and spoken and sang, has always served to educate, inspire, and mobilize its constituents.
[Addendum: I’ve written about the label “political poetry” before; see here.]