6Qs with Poet Suheir Hammad //
Suheir Hammad needs no introduction. You’ve seen her bust a verse on Russel Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, moving a nation with her post-9/11 poem, “First Writing Since.” And she recently starred in the groundbreaking film Salt of This Sea. But more than that, her poems aren’t merely read or heard–as one reader at a recent reading of her new work breaking poems put it, they are ones we “bear witness to.” FEN had the honor of getting these six questions in with her afterwards:
ice cream: Tropical sorbet
song lyric: “As” by Stevie Wonder
superhero: The Universe
1. Did you get support or resistance from your family when you started your career?
There wasn’t resistance from just my family and there’s wasn’t support from just one place. As a woman, the life-choice to be an artist, isn’t nurtured in any of the communities I engage with. And that’s where artists have to push their voice, through the resistance.
I committed myself to my craft. And in a way, the choice was made for me.
There was a tipping or turning point where I looked forward, and back, and decided I would work to be more honest and a better poet. That’s what poetry is. It’s about the human endeavor.
2. What are your influences and motivators?
Curiosity. There’s a specific kind of dysfunction in it. It has the ability to carry you to one place while it gets you stuck in some other places.
3. What’s missing from the Arab-American art scene in your mind?
I wouldn’t say there is a scene. We have disparate aesthetics, influences and ideas. And it seems like we’re all dealing with the same themes from different angles.
Every artist needs to figure out their identity and what their aesthetic is.
My father raised me as a Palestinian in America not Arab-American. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw myself as Arab-American. So we need to rethink how language invites or excludes members of a community.
4. Tell us about making the transition from performing spoken word to acting.
I never wanted to act–never had that hunger to be on stage. It never fed me artistically or spiritually. But for something that I never wanted to do, I learned so much. And art is a self-study, and you have to continue to redefine yourself.
5. What obstacles have you run into and how have you overcome them?
There’s a tension between my personal definition and the inspiration for why I do what I do, and what the external world tells you to do. Along the way, you grow up. You figure out what you want to do. There’s always going to be that mystery. And that’s when I go back to the page. Poetry is there for me to work these things out–in craft and theme.
6. What’s your advice for aspiring artists?
Be the best artist you can be.
You have to believe you’re creating and be the best creator that you can.
There’s nothing more important than your commitment to your craft. And everyone has a different road to being the best artist they can be.