Content Tagged ‘Arabic’

House Guest: Zeina Hashem Beck

Zeina Hashem Beck’s poems, “The Woman in Our House,” “Asmahan,” and “Listen” appear in Ecotone 21. In the piece below, Zeina tells us about the process of writing 3arabi Song, using a glossary of some of the Arabic words in the chapbook.

3arabiCovWriting 3arabi Song: A Glossary of Arabic Terms

Tarab: a kind of Arabic music. The word is also used to describe the emotional effect of this music on the listener, who is almost in a state of trance.

Tarab: When Mom began an Umm Kulthum song in the kitchen, Dad replied from the corridor. When my parents’ friends came over, everyone sang. The only video footage my parents have of me as a toddler is me singing in the middle of a living room, surrounded by clapping adults. This was Lebanon in the ’80s, during the civil war. Every day at lunch or dinner, Dad made the same joke about a line from a famous Abdel Halim song – a line about how time was coming to heal us.

Ya’aburnee: literally means “you bury me.” A term of endearment, often used by Arab mothers, expressing their desire to die before their children, rather than live without them. Can’t be translated in one word.

Ya’aburnee: Three summers ago, my cousin was shot dead on the street in Tripoli, Lebanon. My aunt sat in her living room, crying and singing about her asmar, her dark-skinned boy. That same summer, two Tripoli mosques were bombed. I don’t know how many people have buried loved ones in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine. How to write the untranslatable?

3arabi: the Arabizi way of writing “Arabic.” Arabizi” comes from the combination of “Arabic” and “Englizi” (English); it uses numbers to represent sounds that are specifically Arabic, and has become well-known among Arabic speakers (especially online and in texting).

3arabi: One of the books we had in our house in Tripoli was a big, blue, French-Arabic/Arabic-French dictionary. It’s one of the earliest books I remember going through; I liked its thick cover, its smell, its thin pages, its weight. Looking back now, I find it interesting that, like me, it was bilingual. Like many Lebanese, I attended a French school then an American University. I feel I live in many languages, and so does 3arabi Song. But living in many languages means using the language of the colonizer, the Empire – do I forgive myself? And how do I break English to create a space for my 3arabi self inside it?

Ra7eel: departure | 3awda: returning

Ra7eel | 3awda: In one of the first stories I wrote as a little girl, I gave my character a very Western name: Grace. I remember struggling to come up with it because, in my little girl’s mind, I probably thought, Who names their characters Zeina or Ahmad? Who sets a story in Tripoli? One thing 3arabi Song says is, Oh for God’s sake, who the hell is Grace?

Bahr: the sea. Also means “meter” in Arabic poetry.

Bahr: The sea isn’t always merciful. Refugees keep drowning in the Mediterranean. And poetry seems simultaneously useles and powerful. But language is what I do, so I do it.

Habibi: my love.

Habibi: I lose count of how many times a day I use the word habibi. I lose count of Allah too.

Allahu Akbar: God is greater.

Allahu Akbar: These words didn’t use to invoke fear, or beheadings. When I visited the US for the first time last year, I wanted to read the poem “Adhan,” which contains the words Allahu Akbar. My husband worried some people in the audience might not get it, might be scared. He also worried some people in the Arab world might be offended. This is what happens when you live in the liminal. I read the poem.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second collection, Louder than Hearts, has won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded and runs PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality, and she has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.