Student Poetry Collection Explores Identity and Culture

When Khadijah R. ‘20 first embarked on the Junior Workshop process, she had no idea just how deep her exploration would take her. Though she chose a medium she felt comfortable with – poetry – the experience of shaping her writing into a finished product stretched her in unexpected ways. Her poetry collection, entitled Lemon and Honey, addresses the themes of cultural and personal identity and invites readers to step into the shoes of someone else.

Below, we talk with Khadijah about her project and process.

What was the inspiration behind your project?

When I was growing up, I often wrote poetry to explore my emotions – whether I was sad or something amazing had happened. I wanted my poetry to affect people the way it affects me, and to inspire someone else to have a different emotion in reading my poems.

Khadijah-Junior Workshop

What were some of the themes that you explored in your poetry?

I thought a lot about the idea of “breaking through the bubble.” We live in a world where it's the norm to have food, shelter, and to be happy, and we don’t often see things outside of this bubble.

In one section of [my collection] called “People/Places,” I talk about a place from the perspective of someone else. For example, I wrote a poem about a six-year old boy I met in Palestine. He told me, “The bombs go off every day like a clock,” as if it were normal. That was heartbreaking. I wrote another poem about a boy I saw on a trip to Morocco, who was begging for food outside of a restaurant. I also wrote a poem from the perspective of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, and another one about the Muslim internment camps in China.   

In the final section, I wrote poems about myself. I really put my identity into this. It’s hard being a young Muslim girl in America. When people meet me, often from the get-go they characterize me as “that hijabi girl” or “that brown girl.” In reading my poetry, I wanted people to see that there is this whole other side to me; there is a deep level of writing and meaning. It was really important to me to put some of my culture into this.

Could you describe your process?

People always think of poetry as this spontaneous thing, but there was a lot of revising and editing that went into this. Originally when I started writing, I thought it would just be fun. But there were some poems that I rewrote up to eighteen times because it just never hit correctly. Then there were some where I was on the train, and I would start writing.

It was hard because I got so invested in [the process] – but then that became really powerful. I was reaching into myself, and really trying to figure out, one; what do I want people to get out of it, and two; what do I want to put forth? Ultimately, they all came from the heart. They all mean something to me.  

What did you learn from the Junior Workshop experience?

Junior Workshop was hard work, but through it I learned to appreciate myself. I also learned to have a voice. For example, when I first started to read the poems aloud, I would be very monotone. Then I learned to read them with emotion. When people would say they could sense my pride or happiness in a poem, I knew I did something right. That's the most amazing thing – when you know that your work has made an impact on someone else.

Learn more about Junior Workshop and other student projects by visiting the Junior Workshop page