St. Olaf student honored in national creative writing contest
What is Joud, a student at St. Olaf College Haidar ’22 is most proud of about his poem ‘Khalil Hawi’s Neighbor’ isn’t the honor he received in a national creative writing competition – it’s that it’s the first track he’s written that feels authentic to his experiences .
Haidar’s poem received an honorable mention in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2022 (AWP) Intro Journals Project, a national competition among undergraduate and graduate students who have been nominated by AWP Affiliate Member Programs. His article will be published on the AWP website in recognition of his outstanding work.
“The project does not categorically distinguish between undergraduate and graduate entries. Joud’s honorable mention means his poem was selected from thousands of entries and is an extraordinary achievement,” said Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, English teacher at St. Olaf.
Haidar says he draws inspiration for his work from his experiences growing up in the mountains of Lebanon. One of the first plays he wrote was a memoir about the war he experienced in 2006 when at the age of eight he was locked in the basement as bombs fell outside. outside his house. Unsure if he or his family would survive, the memoirs are one of the earliest reflections of his experiences in Lebanon.
“Lebanon lives in a dichotomy between collapsing and rising and surviving and then going through another war. The country has been torn apart many times by wars and conflicts, but at the same time, it is a beautiful place: very diverse, very dynamic and very lively,” he says. “Finally, I realized that my identity was linked to this. My inner conflicts, my life trajectory cannot be separated from these events that happened and from the history of Lebanon.
“Khalil Hawi’s neighbor” is another reflection of life in Lebanon. Khalil Hawi, a great Lebanese poet and writer, committed suicide when he saw the Israeli army invade Beirut during the Lebanese civil war in 1982. “I projected my own ideas, my own fears, my own thoughts on what Khalil Hawi did from his neighbour’s point of view,” says Haidar. “I’m trying to figure out why someone would do something like this. That’s why I talked about freedom and was it an act of ultimate freedom where he didn’t want to indulge in occupation? This is the background of the poem and the themes discussed in it.
“What makes this poem extraordinary is its unwavering commitment to this neighborhood intimacy, to life, and to the poet’s powerful gestures and words in resistance to destruction and the forced displacement of an occupying force,” says Kwon Dobbs. “Joud’s final lines interpret the elegiac convention of bringing flowers to remember one’s deceased beloved, but above all they are a searing act of caring: “As I was escorted away from our shared balcony, / I wondered who would water these jasmine flowerss?’ Joud asks readers, who will nourish the flower of memory, who will weep with her tears, who will testify as only a neighbor can?
What makes this poem extraordinary is its unwavering attachment to this intimacy of neighborhood, to the life, to the gestures and to the powerful words of the poet in resistance to the destruction and the forced displacements of an occupying force.English teacher Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
Haidar says that with this piece he focused on writing in a way that is true to his experiences.
“As someone who grew up where I grew up, going out, getting scholarships, going into the world and going to graduate school, you get used to telling your story. However, what you get used to is telling your story the way people want to hear it,” says Haidar. “I was writing with a superficial approach that is understandable to people who haven’t had similar experiences to me. Think of a poem that is translated. You translate some emotions, but you lose some of its essence and meaning. substance to make it understandable to a newer audience, and that’s what was happening. I was writing from the surface so people could relate.
However, this changed when Haidar was enrolled in the Kwon Dobbs course, English 150: Creative Writing Craftsmanship. Kwon Dobbs encouraged Haidar to get into the details of his story and write for himself and his community, and not worry about explaining to an American audience.
“And that’s what unlocked the authentic approach and brought experiences that stand out the most and will be understood in their fullest sense for someone who grew up in the area,” Haidar said. “What Professor Kwon Dobbs and I worked on was how to bring out my authentic voice that isn’t speaking to an audience that isn’t me. What she taught me is how write for myself, and it’s worthy of the world listening. The only comfort I got from sharing this poem was that it’s the first piece I’ve written that speaks to me from my point of view. view, and is not written from me to another. It is an authentic poem that I wrote for myself, and it happens to have been shared.
The fact that the coin won an honorable mention from the AWP is an added bonus, says Haidar.
“It definitely comes as something to celebrate. I have always been skeptical about publishing work and sending it for review. I think that’s when a text expires — when you send it out to be reviewed and valued by someone else,” says Haidar. “But at the end of the day, every writer’s doubt is that what you write is not worth sharing by others. The affirmation you get from knowing that your words are welcomed by others is stimulating and fuels more writing.It gives you confidence.
Haidar is currently creating her own poetry book. In the future, he hopes to start writing plays and other plays in his mother tongue, Arabic.
“I don’t know if I’m going to publish the book or if I’m going to keep it to myself, but I’m going to keep doing it even if it ends up being just a memory for me. Leave it in my drawers for later. years to come and think about who I was at the age of 23,” he says. “The goal now is to strike a balance between doing something meaningful enough for me as a job and staying true to to my beliefs, while doing creative work and producing something that is considered art.”