The Project: A poetry collection exploring cultural and personal identity, entitled Lemon and Honey
Inspiration: 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.
Themes Explored: 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.
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.
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.
What I Learned: 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.