Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Candid Chat with Arab-American Poet Dima Hilal

Dima Hilal, an Arab-american poet creates buzz in media as well as in the literary ambience with her poems, which are the reflection of the humanitarian crisis of Lebanon, Iraq, etc. She is a resident of California now. Her works appear in the publications—San Francisco Chronicle, Orion literary journal, Aramco, The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal (Interlink Books, 2001) and Scheherazade’s Legacy: Arab and Arab American Women on Writing, edited by Susan Muaddi Darraj (Praeger, 2004). Hilal gives some insights on her works and leverage of dual cultures on her poetic creation in a candid chat.Excerpts from the interview:

*Your writing is a form of activism. What is your personal view regarding this?

I believe that writing is a very powerful form of activism. Writing can serve to document, record and witness. It has the power to humanize and paint a picture of what would otherwise be forgotten, or worse, remain invisible. It also brings the dialogue away from political ideology to the concrete, human aspects. The conversation can then begin on a much more innate level - the people we speak about aren’t "us" versus "them"; it is not the "other". Rather it is someone’s father, mother, grandson or daughter. I strive to do that in my writing. My poetry is intended to shine the light on a situation by showing the truth, with all of its beauty and pain.·

*Your poems are the reflection of the culture, political, humanitarian situation of your native country, Lebanon? You left Lebanon at an early age. How do you feel the root of your country?

Yes, my work is often inspired by elements of my culture. I was born in Beirut but left my country with my family when I was nearly seven years old. However, Lebanon never fully left me. As an Arab-American, I have always felt as though I had one foot in America and one foot in the Middle East. This in-between state used to feel like a burden to me but I have learned that it is a gift. Through this perspective, I can reach out to both cultures, to criticize and celebrate equally. I think I have retained this link to my native country due to my family. My grandmother grew up with us and because she did not speak English, my sister and I had to maintain a conversational understanding of Arabic. Through her and my parents, we were immersed with these cultural nuances - from eating stuffed grape leaves in our lunch bags at school to wearing turquoise to ward off the evil eye. And this view feels quite natural to me and often works its way into my poetry. Now you know why you often read about orange blossoms, turquoise and the warm Mediterranean wind in my work.·

*Peace Mom creates a buzz in media with her activism. Your poems also tell the stories of mothers like thousand Peace Mom. Do you want to leave a comment on Peace Mom.?

Cindy Sheehan, or Peace Mom, has dedicated her life to preventing the loss of another son or daughter to a senseless war. I recently wrote a poem inspired by a quote I read in the Washington Post of another woman, named Anika Lawal, who recently lost her daughter, a soldier, in Iraq. She said, " I want to know why I’m planning a funeral while George Bush is planning a wedding." Those words haunted me and I wrote a poem in honor of this woman who aches for her little girl and for the child who died barely a woman. This confirmed my belief that if we looked at every civilian and every soldier as someone’s loved one, a precious gem, instead of nameless, faceless individuals, the world would be a truly different place. And that is what Peace Mom represents to me. The courage and the dedication to say, "Enough."

*Please tell me a lot about your professional engagements.

I have had the honor of performing my work in many wonderful venues, from cafes to museums to concert halls. Perhaps the most memorable was reading at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The architecture and the historical significance of this location was incredibly awe-inspiring for me, both as a poet and as an Arab-American. I have also had the privilege of working on a libretto with a composer in San Francisco. We created together - I would provide the words and he would create the music and we would tie the two together to form a cohesive work. The best place to keep track of my various upcoming publications and performances is on my website,

1 comments:kunal said...Hi,its excellent. I heard about Dima Hilal from my friends earlier, really thanks to you for bringing this interview.

1 comment:

Lama said...

keep it up !