Palestinian-American poet, Deema Shehabi, and Jewish-American poet, Marilyn Hacker, came to the stage at Mills College’s Lisser Hall on Oct. 6. The two poets had formed a bond over their work, “Diaspo/Renga.”
The book is a collection of poems that the two women wrote back and forth to each other — each poem a response to the previously written excerpt. They did all of this by email, across an ocean, from Hacker’s home in Paris, France, to Shehabi’s in Walnut Creek, California. The two didn’t meet in person until after their book was published.
As with their work, the artists’ words often overlapped. One would begin a sentence, the other would finish it. Shehabi said that she hoped people would take from the event that, “collaboration produces a flowering.”
“It creates a multiplicity of voices,” Hacker said.
They spoke briefly about the difficulties of being a writer and Hacker said that the hardest thing is constantly starting over on new projects.
Elmaz Abinader, professor of literature and creative writing at Mills College, said that Shehabi’s poetry was too beautiful to bear.
Professor Emerita of English Chana Bloch introduced Hacker.
Hacker’s poems, despite her use of form, are not “botoxed,” said Bloch, explaining that Hacker’s poetry, unlike so many modern poets’ work, does not suffer from her use of older forms such as the sonnet, but rather, benefits from it.
Hacker wrote the first renga, which means “linked-verse” — the style the poem is written in was inspired by a YouTube video she watched of a little girl talking about the loss of her home, and she sent it to Shehabi. The two writers had the people affected by the 2009 and 2012 sieges of Gaza in mind as they wrote of death, loss, love and daily life. The book was finished before the most recent siege, which began this year.
Shehabi said that working on this project with a fellow female poet created a safe space.
Patricia Powell, co-chair of the English department and the event organizer, said she was relieved that there was such a good turnout.
English major Gina DePaul enjoyed the event and found Hacker to be a compelling speaker.
“I was partial to Marilyn’s voice, her tone, everything,” Paul said. “The way she spoke. It was very comforting to me for some reason.”
One member of the audience asked if the book was finished, and how the two of them had known when it was finished.
“There is a book, but it’s not necessarily a closed book,” Hacker said. Shehabi added that there’s always more to write.
Read more about Hacker’s and Shehabi’s process and work in this Oct. 5th article.