Tuesday, November 3, 2009
watch Suheir Hammad at the Kennedy Center
In March of this year, Suheir Hammad performed at the Kennedy Center as part of ARABESQUE: Arts of the Arab World. She presents 19 of her poems in a 50 min performance available from the Millennium Stage Performance Archive of the Kennedy Center. Be sure to watch her performance in Theater Mode. The poems in this performance include Mike Check, a poem for Mahmoud Darwish, for Om Khalthoum and her mother, My Song to Daddy for her father, A Letter to Brooklyn, Not your Exotic, a series of break poems from her latest poetry book, breaking poems, New Orleans, poems of Gaza, Tal al-Hawa, Rafa, Zeitoun, What I will.
To watch more of her poems, go to Pulse, a collaborative political weblog featuring work by a variety of writers, activists and academics based in five continents.
Suheir Hammad interview on Hour.ca:
Hour: Often there is a tension - should art be simply appreciated for art's sake or is all art political given that life is shaped by politics? What are your thoughts about the role that artists can play within political movements, and within liberation struggles, especially that of Palestine's?
Suheir Hammad: I always go back to questioning artists about what they believe art can do. If an artist believes that the intention of their art and the manifestation of their art can transform behaviour and opinion, there should be no place you do not go.
For example, when Erykah Badu travelled to Israel last year, she contacted Palestinian artists, [including filmmaker] Jackie Salloum, and also talked to me about the context. She asked us questions about Palestine before travelling. So when Badu got into Palestine she met up with Palestinian rappers. As soon as she got to Tel Aviv she was questioned [by Israeli security agents] about who she listens to and why. So perhaps the decision for Badu to travel to Israel was taken by her record company or management. However, in travelling, Badu took action to inform and empower herself.
Hour I'm sure it is very difficult to convey through words the effects of the Israeli attack on Gaza this past winter, the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, or the impacts of the Palestinian refugee experience for over 60 years. When you are on stage or developing your poems, how do you convey that reality through your poetry?
Hammad Darwish actually talked about this, what happens on stage. I often go back to this phrase that Darwish said in a film, which is, "The poem on the page has a life of its own," which I always believed because I never thought originally I would be on stage. I was always interested in writing, and it is the actual writing process that continues to feed my work.
Once you enter the public sphere you are engaging as a public citizen and this is a different experience from writing poetry. [It is] sharing my innermost thoughts and observations with strangers.
Audre Lorde has a poem called Litany for Survival, which says, "So it is better to speak, remembering, we were never meant to survive." On a personal level I have my own fears and insecurities, and as Lord explained, you are always going to have them - you will still be afraid sometimes, but you must continue."