Contemporary South-Asian and Southwest-Asian American Poetry

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   Course Map

    1. Access-the-Course-Map for Students New to Coursera online and SloPo Courses
    2. Course Overview with Sample Poems and Sample Discussion Thread
    3. The Library
    4. Week One and Two Materials: Ethnopoetics & Shaking the Pumpkin
    5. Jerome Rothenberg Assemblage of Materials: From Ethnopoetics to his own poetry and his work on A Big Jewish Book — texts, audio, video. 
    6. The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg
    7. Week Three Materials: Contemporary American Indian Poetry
    8. Week Four Materials: Pacific Islander Poetry 
    9. Week Four Materials: Contemporary Caribbean Anglophone Poetry
    10. Week Five Materials: Contemporary African-American Poetry
    11. Week Six Materials: Contemporary Latinx-American Poetry and Performance
    12. Week Seven Materials: Contemporary Asian-American Poetry
    13. Week Eight Materials:  The Ghazal, Contemporary Middle-Eastern and South-Asian Poetry

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Agha Shahid Ali



Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi, India in 1949. He grew up in Kashmir, the son of a distinguished and highly educated family in Srinagar. He attended the University of Kashmir, the University of Delhi and, upon arriving in the United States in 1975, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona. Though a Kashmiri Muslim, Ali is best known in the U.S. and identified himself as an American poet writing in English. The recipient of numerous fellowships and awards and a finalist for the National Book Award, he taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Princeton College and in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. At the time of his death in 2001, Ali was noted as a poet uniquely able to blend multiple ethnic influences and ideas in both traditional forms and elegant free-verse. His poetry reflects his Hindu, Muslim, and Western heritages.

Known particularly for his dexterous allusions to European, Urdu, Arabic and Persian literary traditions, Ali’s poetry collections revolve around both thematic and cultural poles. The scholar Amardeep Singh has described Ali’s style as “ghazalesque,” referring to Ali’s frequent use of the form as well as his blending of the “rhythms and forms of the Indo-Islamic tradition with a distinctly American approach to storytelling. Most of his poems are not abstract considerations of love and longing,” Singh noted, “but rather concrete accounts of events of personal importance (and sometimes political importance).” Although the existential anxieties have their source in problems of growing up, leaving home, being a migrant, and the meeting of cultures, the idiom is American and contemporary.”

The poem originally called “Kashmir Without a Post Office” was published as the title poem in The Country Without a Post Office (1997). Taking its impetus from the 1990 Kashmiri uprising against India, which led to political violence and closed all the country’s post offices for seven months, Ali’s long poem is considered one of his masterpieces. Rooms Are Never Finished (2001) similarly yokes political and personal tragedy, again with a long poem as its focal point. Ali used a line from Emily Dickinson as the title for “Amherst to Kashmir,” a poem that explores his grief at his mother’s death and his own continued sense of exile from his home and culture.

Ali was a noted writer of ghazals, a Persian form that utilizes repetition, rhyme, and couplets. As editor of Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000), he described the long history of the fascination of Western writers with ghazals, as well as offering a succinct theoretical reading of the form itself. In his introduction he wrote, “The ghazal is made up of couplets, each autonomous, thematically and emotionally complete in itself… once a poet establishes the scheme—with total freedom, I might add—she or he becomes its slave. What results in the rest of the poem is the alluring tension of a slave trying to master the master.” Ali’s own book of ghazals, Call Me Ishmael Tonight (2001), frequently references American poets and other poems, creating a further layer of allusive tension. The poet Michael Palmer alleged that Ali’s “ghazals offer a path toward a level of lyric expansiveness few poets would dare to aspire to.” The volume was published posthumously, following Ali’s untimely death. (from

Here is video of Agha Shahid Ali talking about the ghazal form:

Two Ghazals

on the form:

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomousEach couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif,) and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the which appears twice in the first couplet). Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Comprehensive overview:

Helpful info:

from the above link: “The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.”

& from Stephanie Burt: “What is a ghazal? The term (pronounced “guzzle”) originated in Arabic, where it denoted a topic: early Arabic ghazals were lyric poems about erotic love, and like other Arabic poems they used monorhyme (all the lines end on the same sound). Poets of medieval Persia codified the form by employing couplets of uniform meter and length, with the same word or phrase, the radif, at the end of each couplet. A rhyme—the qafia—also appeared in each couplet, twice in the first and once, just before the radif, in all others. All the couplets had to be complete and independent in sense and syntax, almost as if they were separate poems. The final couplet also contained a name (usually the poet’s own name or his pen name, the takhallus). The form encompassed secular, erotic longing and (as in the work of the poet Jaladdin Rumi) mysticism, in which the Beloved is God. It also lent itself to sung performance and to public contests, called mushaira, in which poets would sing or recite their work.”

So, to review, the basic form is this, going through and taking apart Agha Shahid Ali’s “Ghazal”




Feel the patient’s heart

Pounding—oh please, this once—



I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time.

A refugee, I’ll be paroled in real time.

(see, in the first couplet, there in a rhyme “-old” followed by the repeating phrase “in real time.” In the first couplet, they occur in both lines)


Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?

A former existence untold in real time …

(now in the second and following couplets, the rhyme “-old” and repeating phrase “in real time” only occur in the second line. The poem continues thusly in couplets, each a discrete unit independent from the others in terms of content — this is not a narrative form, though you could try and make it one)


The one you would choose: Were you led then by him?

What longing, O Yaar, is controlled in real time?


Each syllable sucked under waves of our earth—

The funeral love comes to hold in real time!


They left him alive so that he could be lonely—

The god of small things is not consoled in real time.


Please afterwards empty my pockets of keys—

It’s hell in the city of gold in real time.


God’s angels again are—for Satan!—forlorn.

Salvation was bought but sin sold in real time.


And who is the terrorist, who the victim?

We’ll know if the country is polled in real time.


“Behind a door marked DANGER” are being unwound

the prayers my friend had enscrolled in real time.


The throat of the rearview and sliding down it

the Street of Farewell’s now unrolled in real time.


I heard the incessant dissolving of silk—

I felt my heart growing so old in real time.


Her heart must be ash where her body lies burned.

What hope lets your hands rake the cold in real time?


Now Friend, the Belovèd has stolen your words—

Read slowly: The plot will unfold in real time.


(for Daniel Hall)



Yaar: Hindi word for friend.


The above is an unusual example of a ghazal, as usually in the last couplet the poet refers to themself by their own name.




Listen to Shahid Ali read “Tonight”

An annotated version of the poem is available here:


Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar

—Laurence Hope


Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?

Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?


Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”

“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?


I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—

A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.


God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—

All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.


Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;

Only we can convert the infidel tonight.


Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities

multiply me at once under your spell tonight.


He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.

He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.


In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.

No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.


God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—

I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.


Executioners near the woman at the window.

Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.


The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer

fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.


My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?

This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.


And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—

God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.


Stephanie Burt’s short, helpful essay on “Tonight” from

Let Your Mirrored Convexities Multiply: Kazim Ali discusses Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazal “Tonight.”:


Even the Rain

by Agha Shahid Ali


What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?

But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.


“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”

Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?


After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.

And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.


Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.

For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.


Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:

Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.


How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?

He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.


This is God’s site for a new house of executions?

You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?


After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:

The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.


What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?

A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.


How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—

To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.


He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves;

he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.


New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—

To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.


They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?

No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.


the full lecture by Agha Shahid Ali from which the excerpt on the ghazal above is taken:


Lenox Hill

(In Lenox Hill Hospital, after surgery,
my mother said the sirens sounded like the
elephants of Mihiragula when his men drove
them off cliffs in the Pir Panjal Range.)


The Hun so loved the cry, one falling elephant’s,
he wished to hear it again. At dawn, my mother
heard, in her hospital-dream of elephants,
sirens wail through Manhattan like elephants
forced off Pir Panjal’s rock cliffs in Kashmir:
the soldiers, so ruled, had rushed the elephant,
The greatest of all footprints is the elephant’s,
said the Buddha. But not lifted from the universe,
those prints vanished forever into the universe,
though nomads still break news of those elephants
as if it were just yesterday the air spread the dye
(“War’s annals will fade into night / Ere their story die”),
the punishing khaki whereby the world sees us die
out, mourning you, O massacred elephants!
Months later, in Amherst, she dreamt: She was, with dia-
monds, being stoned to death. I prayed: If she must die,
let it only be some dream. But there were times, Mother,
while you slept, that I prayed, “Saints, let her die.”
Not, I swear by you, that I wished you to die
but to save you as you were, young, in song in Kashmir,
and I, one festival, crowned Krishna by you, Kashmir
listening to my flute. You never let gods die.
Thus I swear, here and now, not to forgive the universe
that would let me get used to a universe
without you. She, she alone, was the universe
as she earned, like a galaxy, her right not to die,
defying the Merciful of the Universe,
Master of Disease, “in the circle of her traverse”
of drug-bound time. And where was the god of elephants,
plump with Fate, when tusk to tusk, the universe,
dyed green, became ivory? Then let the universe,
like Paradise, be considered a tomb. Mother,
they asked me, So how’s the writing? I answered My mother
is my poem. What did they expect? For no verse
sufficed except the promise, fading, of Kashmir
and the cries that reached you from the cliffs of Kashmir
(across fifteen centuries) in the hospital. Kashmir,
she’s dying! How her breathing drowns out the universe
as she sleeps in Amherst. Windows open on Kashmir:
There, the fragile wood-shrines—so far away—of Kashmir!
O Destroyer, let her return there, if just to die.
Save the right she gave its earth to cover her, Kashmir
has no rights. When the windows close on Kashmir,
I see the blizzard-fall of ghost-elephants.
I hold back—she couldn’t bear it—one elephant’s
story: his return (in a country far from Kashmir)
to the jungle where each year, on the day his mother
died, he touches with his trunk the bones of his mother.
“As you sit here by me, you’re just like my mother,”
she tells me. I imagine her: a bride in Kashmir,
she’s watching, at the Regal, her first film with Father.
If only I could gather you in my arms, Mother,
I’d save you—now my daughter—from God. The universe
opens its ledger. I write: How helpless was God’s mother!
Each page is turned to enter grief’s accounts. Mother,
I see a hand. Tell me it’s not God’s. Let it die.
I see it. It’s filling with diamonds. Please let it die.
Are you somewhere alive, somewhere alive, Mother?
Do you hear what I once held back: in one elephant’s
cry, by his mother’s bones, the cries of those elephants
that stunned the abyss? Ivory blots out the elephants.
I enter this: The Beloved leaves one behind to die.
For compared to my grief for you, what are those of Kashmir,
and what (I close the ledger) are the griefs of the universe
when I remember you—beyond all accounting—O my mother?

Poems on pdf:

Agha Shahid Ali – From Amherst to Kashmir

Agha Shahid Ali – I Dream I Am at the Ghat of the Only World


More on Agha Shahid Ali:

Since Last We Met: Painting Agha Shahid Ali’s Couplets on Kashmir by Masood Hussein. “Here are a few couplets of mine that I had written keeping you in mind. I want you to paint them when you have the time.”


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Sophia Naz

Sophia Naz is a bilingual poet, essayist, author, editor and translator. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, in 2016 for creative nonfiction and in 2018 for poetry. Her work features in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Poetry International Rotterdam, The Adirondack Review, The Wire, Chicago Quarterly Review, Blaze Vox, Scroll, The Daily O, Cafe Dissensus, Guftugu, Pratik, Gallerie International, Coldnoon, VAYAVYA, The Bangalore Review, Madras Courier, etc Her poetry collections are Peripheries (2015), Pointillism (2017) and Date Palms (2017). Shehnaz, a biography of her mother published from Penguin Random House in November 2019.

Sophia will be live on April 1 on a broadcast podcast:

Sophia PNG

Sophia was live on April 1 on a broadcast podcast: Here’s the recording of her reading and Q&A:

Sophia’s website:


Habeas Corpus

Produce the body, her delicate coinage laid

out as dowry would be, for all to examine


Richness of loss, touch her mongrel flair

curve of missing column, absent shair






Seem antics

See, man ticks

Language is the bomb




Well, the bucket list fills up

water sings, frogs jump in


Skin in the game, a rumor burns

your tongue, spring in flames


Resurrection’s theme, lilies

a social distancing species


outsourcing copulation

to bees, benevolent breezes


& you too, uncoupled from the train

of thought, its cranky bogies


on a day like this, when mustard fields

are leavened with poppies


above girders locked in cat’s cradle

Tamalpais holds a world’s blue in place


and sedate slate grey sea

a study in placid fluidity


cell bars stir volumes on the house

of cards, blow by blow, tiny death


while the sky, an unmade bed

spilling silk


on a day like this.


Mother Tongue

Take off your shoes outside this shrine

where ghosts of the mother

tongue reside, alongside

lamps of extinguished geographies

Should I gauze this Dacca muslin today?

Say: *mull, mull, glaze a homonym hymn

in Kabir’s cadence over an earthen p(l)ot

of amputated thumbs?

Warp and weft pour from the cleft

mandible as tomb,  sanctum

sanctorum, womb of  wombs

mother tongues ferment

Matryoshka dolls, each within

another, mother, grandmother

great grandmother till the last pod

God –  embedded seed syllable wails

Ma, mother of memory, heal me

unmake my prosaic days of bricks

troll *bhooths, malware, endless phishes

click by click the dick pics box me in

*Anarkali, sentenced to snark alley

by that blind emperor, autocorrect

the walls the walls are closing in

trance fixed on a selfie stick

Mother of memory, Ma, reveal me

a heaving loom the greater grid

buried in these lines, electrify a thousand-

fold suns in the mouth of every silence

*mull mull is a homonym for mulmul or a very fine muslin, renowned all over pre-Partition India, it was of such fine quality that the British cut off all the thumbs of the weavers who produced it

*Bhooths: Evil spirits

*Anarkali: Pomegranate Bud, heroine of Mughal Azam a popular Indian film epic in which she is sentenced to death by being walled up alive for the crime of loving the crown prince.



Before you were born she skimmed

your boundary, mother

of all stripes, linea negra, a lean line, simple as the clean

cut that popped you, squeak & pip

of two signature lines

cradled in timbre, the line

grew shape, a skipping scribble float the *maulvi

twisting your naughty ear to still of bey, made slender

letter-boat anchored by a single *nukta, point being

that slowly you were made to form

*lakeer ka faqeer, the line that would fill your life as water

does a glass, this much was clear

must memorize, repeat

line after line

no loving in this repeating

which brings us

to lineage, conundrum

at hand, look, under

the womanhood

the line you must not cross

is given, circumscribed

it hems you in from head to toe

the line, as manual, precipice, edge, abyss, endless delineation

of nots & crosses

Ash Wednesdays the forehead weathers

season after season

red and unread lines are everywhere, demarcations

of otherness, the puzzled dashes—

of word processors helpless

to corral *Alif-Laila under their spell

when the line fell in love

it became a couplet

*radif and qafia eloped a ghazal

that briefest of springs lingering

in between the margins

even as the line stops galloping

on the electric page

above the hospice bed

slumps two sad elbows, becomes

the four lines of the coffin

a quatrain from whose walls

there is no escape, only passage

*Maulvi definition, (in India) an expert in Islamic law: used especially as a term of respectful address among Muslims.

*Nuqtā (Hindi-Urdu नुक़्ता, نقطہ, from Arabic nuqta نقطة “dot,” or “period.”), also spelled Nuktā, is a term for a diacritic mark that was introduced in Devanāgari and some other Indian scripts to represent sounds not present in the original scripts. It takes the form of a dot placed below a character.

*There is an urban legend that students all wanted to be great Saint like their teacher but one of them was quite ambitious. He worked hard to get all the theoretical knowledge but lacked common sense and behaviourial applications. So, one day, The Saint advised his students to dry their washed clothes outside their hut and have drawn a line (laqeer) to fix an individual spot for each student. All students made this a routine and continued following this as a rule. But one day, it started raining. All students took their half dried clothes inside their huts but that unique student stuck to his line to dry his clothes resulting in them getting more wet. That was when people started calling him laqeer ka faqeer.. which simply mean to strictly follow something without applying much sense.

*Alif Laila is an Indian television series based on the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights. The series ran from 1993–1997 for 143 episodes. The plotline starts from the very beginning when Sharzad starts telling stories to Shahyar and contains both the well-known and the lesser-known stories from the One Thousand and One Nights.. The name Alif Laila is a short form of the original Arabic title of the One Thousand and One Nights – Alif Layla wa-Layla (Arabic: ألف ليلة وليلة‎).

*Radif (Persian: ردیف‎, meaning order) is a rule in Persian, Turkic, and Urdu poetry which states that, in the form of poetry known as a Ghazal, the second line of all the couplets must end with the same word/s. This repeating of common words is the “Radif” of the Ghazal. The radif at the end of the line is preceded by a qafia, which is a repeating rhyme.


Resources on Sophia Naz:

In The City Of Proper Nouns, poetry reading by Sophia Naz:

ModPoMinute #53: On Sophia Naz’s “Bomb”:

ModPoMinute #25: On Sophia Naz’s “Habeas Corpus,” with Douglas Kearney

We Know The Green Language, poem & video by Sophia Naz:

The Leisurely Art of the Goldsmith Applied to Language: Sophia Naz’s Date Palms Prashant Keshavmurthy:

Wound, Therapy & Vigilance in Sophia Naz’s Poetry – by Uttaran Das Gupta:


An essay by Sophia about her mother:

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Fady Joudah

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian American physician, poet, and translator. He was born in Austin, Texas, and grew up in Libya and Saudi Arabia. He was educated at the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Texas Health Sciences in Houston. In 2002 and 2005 he worked with Doctors Without Borders in Zambia and Sudan, respectively. Joudah’s debut collection of poetry, The Earth in the Attic (2008), won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, chosen by Louise Glück. Joudah followed his second book of poetry, Alight (2013) with Textu (2014), a collection of poems written on a cell phone wherein each piece is exactly 160 characters long. His fourth collection is Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance (2018). In 2014, Joudah was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. Joudah translated several collections of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s work in The Butterfly’s Burden (2006), which won the Banipal prize from the UK. His translation of Ghassan Zaqtan‘s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012) won the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2013. Joudah lives with his family in Houston, where he works as a physician of internal medicine.


Sleeping Trees


Between what should and what should not be

Everything is liable to explode. Many times

I was told who has no land has no sea. My father

Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story

Of a sycamore tree he used to climb

When he was young to watch the rain.

Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being

Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.

My brother believed bad dreams could kill

A man in his sleep, he insisted

We wake my father from his muffled screams

On the night of the day he took us to see his village.

No longer his village he found his tree amputated.

Between one falling and the next

There’s a weightless state. There was a woman

Who loved me. Asked me how to say tree

In Arabic. I didn’t tell her. She was sad. I didn’t understand.

When she left. I saw a man in my sleep three times. A man I knew

Could turn anyone into one-half reptile.

I was immune. I thought I was. I was terrified of being

The only one left. When we woke my father

He was running away from soldiers. Now

He doesn’t remember that night. He laughs

About another sleep, he raised his arms to strike a king

And tried not to stop. He flew

But mother woke him and held him for an hour,

Or half an hour, or as long as it takes a migration inward.

Maybe if I had just said it.

Shejerah, she would’ve remembered me longer. Maybe

I don’t know much about dreams

But my mother taught me the law of omen. The dead

Know about the dying and sometimes

Catch them in sleep like the sycamore tree

My father used to climb

When he was young to watch the rain stream,

And he would gently swing.




Over treasure and land some texts will say it had

Little to do with slavery or the newly

Discovered yellow planet

Few men watched the glaciers recede

From shuttles they had built

During the hemorrhage years

When they’d gathered all the genes down from the ledges

I’ll be a fig or a sycamore tree

Or without hands

By then doctors and poets

Would have found a cure for prayer

Or have you shoved the door shut

In the face of the dark?

Have you body and light the trap

Of retribution doing unto you

What it does to others? You protest

In the streets and papers and I leave

For a faraway land

Where with pill and scalpel

And a distant reckoning

If he should lick his lips

Or clench his fist I shall find his second left toe

Infected puffy

From a bump

I’ll lance it and squeeze

Out the pus and offer

Him an antibiotic

I can’t refuse therefore I am

The first time I saw you it was hot I was fed up

The second time your wife gave birth to a macerated boy

I had nothing to tell you

About letting go of the dying

In the morning you were gone

Had carried your father back to your house

His cracked skull

I didn’t know that was your wife

When I raised my voice

To those who were praying

From behind the wall to keep it down

I was trying to listen to your baby’s heartbeat

With a gadget a century old


From so much loss giving birth

If you give blood in the desert you won’t

Get it back not your iron pills or magic hat

I put your thin

Hemoglobin up to the light and called out

To the donors Donors

If you want to know your blood type

And it’s a match

You must donate

Few came some indifferent to my condition

Not having heard of it

And willing anyhow

And the world is south

The night a bandit with gasoline

And I’m your dancing lizard mirth

I put my one arm up

And bring my one foot down on a hot zinc top

The nearest hospital was the dawn

She didn’t know her daughter on her back was

The entry wound and she the exit

She ran a brothel so

The officer said

Where the rebels came and went

And ran into the government boys

Her girl’s femur the size of the bullet

He was from the other side rumors

Had a bullet through his left arm

Or had it bitten off by a camel

A camel elephant of the desert never forgets what you are

If you aren’t kind to it

When I met him his bladder was the size

Of a watermelon his prostate a cantaloupe

You cannot catheterize

A man forever

Every hour on the hour his left arm stump

Hanging his good arm holding

His penis his buttocks in deep squeeze

A charge from the rear without spillage

This poor murderous thief desperately single-

Handedly began slapping his own ass

As if he were dashing a stallion in a raid

On some unarmed village

The mind in the field

The brine in the field

Whether I

Is a diphthong codependent on

What isn’t there to stay in the field

The good you act is equal

To the good you doubt

Most have lost many

You are either prosperous

Or veteran in the field

A mother offers not necessarily

Sells her one-eyed son

For an education if you’ll bring him back

And stone dust for one

With congenital illness

And little boy with malaria

Same old gas

Money mixed with blood

Transfusion the doctor’s perfect record broken

Nobility of taking

A life you

Who must walk to and from your house

The jeep’s upkeep

The donkey-cart ambulance

One boot left behind

The one-boot photo I wanted

On a book military black the quad a clinic’s

Special Forces spun

By his dangling heels from

The pickup truck rushed

To a central town altered combative

With two scalp lacerations and blood

In his auditory canal

I was a lover of loss I tossed

The boot in the capital of suffering



Three sparrows in the schoolyard while waiting for my daughter to finish up her play with friends whose purity she will come to question in a few weeks and in that way I am reminded of the president when he speaks of enemies to the other side of the mirror but only in that way the three sparrows ruffled up the dirt as their wings and heads spun motorbike doughnuts after one of them had come back with a massive potato chip for the other two to fight over perhaps he was the provider or wasn’t hungry but simply couldn’t let a good bit of food go to waste

Then a crow came and the winner sparrow went zooming into the orange orchard knowing fully well it would be impossible to alight and reappeared with a chip the size of his beak and a flurry of birds descended on the scene (I even saw a Fletcher) but kept my eyes on that little sparrow and am happy to report he kept what his mouth held though it occurs to me he was also mean and the one who seemed a provider might have been yoked in that way my wife during delivery was rung up like a bar code whenever the nurse knocked or the doctor was called


In the room there were women
Counting up to ten dressed in blue
The doctor was also
Pregnant in her final week

The neonate came out broke
The sound barrier and was whisked
Away from the mother the father
Had cut the cord having held

Scissors before he couldn’t turn down
The doctor’s offer as if he would
Have denied someone an entry
Or exit visa

Then the women were gone
And neighbors and friends had to go
To work and the mother was alone
With breast or formula milk

One nurse suggested the latter
Was the better soporific


An infant smile
A gas tickle
The price of milk

It goes up in war

My son is here to teach me
My temperament is genetic

His smile is blind
It dreams a spandrel
Turns opiate in the eyes

He grunts impatient wants
Gas out as soon as

It forms in peace
He coos

It’s what doves do
Though excitable
Observant of moving lips

Attempts utterance
Throws up happy spit
And hunger’s renewed

 Resources on Fady Joudah:

INTERVIEW: Field of Power: Fady Joudah is known as much for his own verse as for his translations of Palestinian poets. BY ALEX DUEBEN

Six Questions for Fady Joudah by Christine Mallon

AUDIO Ghassan Zaqtan: International Poets in Conversation  January 14, 2013  Fady Joudah and Ghassan Zaqtan discuss Palestinian poetry with Ilya Kaminsky.

AUDIO Five Muslim American Poets: Part I: Literary discussion featuring readings by poets Raza Ali Hasan, Ibtisam Barakat, Fady Joudah, Kazim Ali, and Khaled Mattawa.

AUDIO Five Muslim American Poets: Part II: Literary discussion featuring readings by poets Raza Ali Hasan, Ibtisam Barakat, Fady Joudah, Kazim Ali, and Khaled Mattawa.

I recommend highly this poem, “Birth,” also. 

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Mohja Kahf

Poet and scholar Mohja Kahf was born in Damascus, Syria. Her family moved to the United States in 1971, and Kahf grew up in the Midwest. She earned a PhD in comparative literature from Rutgers University and is the author of the poetry collections Hagar Poems (2016) and Emails from Scheherazad (2003) and the novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006). Kahf’s experiences growing up in the United States shaped her perceptions of the differences and similarities between the cultures of her home and adopted countries. Her poetry is an amalgam of both Syrian and American influences; Lisa Suhair Majaj commented in ArteNews that Kahf’s work “draws on American colloquialisms and Quranic suras; it is informed not only by American free verse … but also by a lush energy that draws on the heart of the Arabic oral tradition and Arabic poetry.”Kahf sometimes satirizes stereotypes about Muslim women—she has tackled hairstyles, sex, and clothing. In Emails from Scheherazad, she locates Scheherazad in 21st-century Hackensack, New Jersey. Majaj observed that Kahf “unsettles assumptions about Scheherazad while also emphasizing aspects of the traditional tale that often get overlooked in western portrayals.” Kahf has also written about the hardships of immigration; The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf depicts a Muslim girl’s coming of age in Indiana. Kahf co-writes a column on sexuality for the website Muslim Wake Up. Her nonfiction work includes Western Representation of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque (1999). Kahf is a professor of English at the University of Arkansas.


My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears by Mohja Kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink

of the bathroom at Sears

to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,


because she has to pray in the store or miss

the mandatory prayer time for Muslims

She does it with great poise, balancing

herself with one plump matronly arm

against the automated hot-air hand dryer,

after having removed her support knee-highs

and laid them aside, folded in thirds,

and given me her purse and her packages to hold

so she can accomplish this august ritual

and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown

as they notice what my grandmother is doing,

an affront to American porcelain,

a contamination of American Standards

by something foreign and unhygienic

requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray

They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see

a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,

catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,

I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul

with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems

I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus

over painted bowls imported from China

among the best families of Aleppo

And if you Americans knew anything

about civilization and cleanliness,

you’d make wider washbins, anyway

My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,

my grandmother might as well have been squatting

in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,

Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,

when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.

“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,

turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”

“We wash our feet five times a day,”

my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.

“My feet are cleaner than their sink.

Worried about their sink, are they? I

should worry about my feet!”

My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see

at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,

all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent

in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum

Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,

is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse

For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps

that match her purse, I think in case someone

from one of the best families of Aleppo

should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women

as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them

and shrug at my grandmother as if they

had just apologized through me

No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone

and we all emerge on the sales floor

and lose ourselves in the great common ground

of housewares on markdown.


Hijab Scene 7 by Mohja Kahf

No, I’m not bald under the scarf

No, I’m not from that country

where women can’t drive cars

No, I would not like to defect

I’m already American

But thank you for offering

What else do you need to know

relevant to my buying insurance,

opening a bank account,

reserving a seat on a flight?

Yes, I speak English

Yes, I carry explosives

They’re called words

And if you don’t get up

Off your assumptions

They’re going to blow you away


Resources on Mohja Khaf:

She Carries Weapons; They Are Called Words by By Neil MacFarquhar from The New York Times

A Conversation with Mohja Kahf by Richard Drake from The Arkansas Times

‘Poetry is a witness’ to suffering wrought by Syria’s civil war by By Jeffrey Fleishman from The Los Angeles Times

Mohja Kahf ” I Love a Man Who Washes My Dishes”

Mohja Kahf “The Binding”


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   Course Map

    1. Access-the-Course-Map for Students New to Coursera online and SloPo Courses
    2. Course Overview with Sample Poems and Sample Discussion Thread
    3. The Library
    4. Week One and Two Materials: Ethnopoetics & Shaking the Pumpkin
    5. Jerome Rothenberg Assemblage of Materials: From Ethnopoetics to his own poetry and his work on A Big Jewish Book — texts, audio, video. 
    6. The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg
    7. Week Three Materials: Contemporary American Indian Poetry
    8. Week Four Materials: Pacific Islander Poetry 
    9. Week Four Materials: Contemporary Caribbean Anglophone Poetry
    10. Week Five Materials: Contemporary African-American Poetry
    11. Week Six Materials: Contemporary Latinx-American Poetry and Performance
    12. Week Seven Materials: Contemporary Asian-American Poetry
    13. Week Eight Materials:  The Ghazal, Contemporary Middle-Eastern and South-Asian Poetry

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