The Place for Writers will be hosting Jewish-American poet Marilyn Hacker and Palestinian-American Poet Deema Shehabi in a poetic dialogue and reading from their book Diaspo/Renga. The event will take place at Lisser Hall at 7 p.m. on October 6th.
The book is the result of emails between the two poets, which began in 2009 when Hacker emailed Shehabi, with a renga-style poem. The poems were born out of frustrations over events in Gaza although it addresses other world events.
“All of the poems are not about Palestine and Israel,” Hacker said. “They jump from place to place; they are mini-stories about different places real and imagined. One could map the locations of these poems and find Beirut, Paris, Damascus, Berkeley, New York, Kuwait.”
“We really jumped around the globe to reflect our different concerns,” Shehabi said.
Although the renga poetic form is traditionally more visually descriptive, Hacker and Shehabi are pushing the boundaries of the genre with their creations of these “little semi-fictions.”
“The renga form was a bit of a departure from my work,” Shehabi said, “in the sense that the language was more prosaic, more plain, more of the moment, more narrative. I tried to capture those moments more intensely.”
They both found that the form was grounding and freeing at the same time.
“The formal constraint in poetry is liberating because it allows the subconscious to get into the game,” Hacker said, “because you’re thinking about the form, so it frees our imagination.”
Publisher Holland Park Press describes the book as “a dignified celebration of humanity in and among atrocities.”
Hacker, an award-winning poet, who is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, was introduced to Shehabi over email by a mutual friend. Shehabi and Hacker only just met in person two weeks ago at a reading of their book.
Shehabi, who earned an Masters in Journalism at Boston University, and is the vice president for the Radius of Arab-American Writers, said that shifting their relationship from electronic to in person has been seamless.
Although they currently have no formal plans for another collaboration, the future is wide open.
“This whole experience has left open doors and open windows to doing it again,” Hacker said.
The poets will be introduced by Elmaz Abinader, Mills professor of English, and Chana Bloch, Mills English professor emerita, and will be recorded for live broadcast by Dennis Bernstein from KPFA.
Excerpts of Diaspo/Renga can be found online at the Holland Park Press website.