12 December 2020

English-language poem by authors of Arab heritage (adult), judged by poet Hala Alyan

WINNER: Emily Khilfeh, Palestine/USA

Poem Title: Chanson Mystique

Selected Artwork: Suha Shoman, Chanson Mystique, 1980s

Judge Hala Alyan said of the winning poem: “I found “Chanson Mystique” to be a gorgeously crafted piece, breathlessly paced and evoking the chaotic beauty of Suha Shoman’s painting. The poet does a remarkable job of dialoguing with the art, evoking Midwestern thunderstorms and “cherry juice/in Jerusalem.” In the end, this is–above all else–a praise poem, as the speaker entreaties us to remember, “Here sits holiness of sorts,/here sits coral, blood & cherry, here scatters the stars/like my uncle scatters saplings.”

RUNNER UP: Nur Turkmani, Lebanon

Poem Title: Body Parts

Selected Artwork: Huguette Caland, Bribes de Corps, 1971

Alyan said of the poem that, “‘Body parts,’ much like the painting it converses with, is a striking, unflinching piece, an exploration of the body: the body as it heals, as it disappears, as it suffers. Referencing the ‘body’ of cities as much as lovers, we are asked to walk with the poet, reminded ‘(o)ur feet hurt but they dragged us on & on like an unpunctuated sentence.’ Still, the poet seems to believe in the body as much as its destruction, and we are left with the haunting question, ‘What is a dancer if not a body disappearing?’”

More about the judge and winning poets:

Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, SALT HOUSES, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017, and was the winner of the Arab American Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her newest poetry collection, THE TWENTY-NINTH YEAR, was recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Emily Khilfeh (she/her) is a Palestinian-American writer from Seattle, WA. She is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a former fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets.  Her poetry appears in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Pinwheel Journal, Glass: a Journal of Poetry, and the 2018 and 2019 Ghassan Kanafani Anthology. 

Nur Turkmani is a Syrian-Lebanese researcher based in Beirut, working on development policies, gender, and secularism in the Middle East. Nur’s writing and poetry have been published in Jadaliyya, Eclectica, Sukoon, Juxtaprose, London Poetry, The New Arab and others.