Saturday, May 8, 2010

Palfest Comes to Birzeit

This is a couple of days old, and we apologize most strenuously for that. At around 11 AM the big air-conditioned tourist bus pulled up next to the Kamal Nasser Building, and the authors, poets, and writers spilled out, some chatting confidently with each other, others with uncertainty clear on their faces. This was where we and other volunteers stepped up and introduced ourselves with leering grins as their escorts for the duration of their time on campus. Shackled to us, we then proceeded to take them in the building for the hour long plenary, with the panel board consisting of five stand-out individuals: Adam Foulds, Rachael Holmes, Susan Abulhawa, Suheir Hammad, and Jillian Edelstein. The other equally distinguished in their own way participants can be found on the Palfest website.
This post is unique in that you will be subjected to our individual minds for the first time, as we had different experiences with different poets/writers.

First impressions should be outlawed. They should be beaten down with
a mace and then be buried under the horrific songs of Justin Beiber. I was to escort Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian-American spoken word artist living in New York. I was already 'familiar' with Remi, as I had seen his electrifying performance at the first POP night back in February, and everyone (the students who took part in his workshop) assured me he was a funny guy who enjoys poking fun at himself, so I thought I was lucky to have him. In the space of 120 seconds however, a few words from him (not directed at me) and the workings of the damn mutinous imagination of mine, I had already convinced myself he was a cocky jerk who forced me to become someone who was uptight and straight-laced, someone with a pinched face (rhyme definitely not intended). During the plenary, I repeatedly kicked myself mentally for not latching myself onto some confused old British guy. Thankfully, things got going after the refreshments and dozens of pictures with fans. As we walked to the hour and 15 minute workshop, we had a beautiful in depth heart to heart talk about all things pretty, such as ponies and rainbows and sleeping babies. Actually it was more about a little history of ourselves, the university, and an amazingly cool person we mutually know. One on one conversations, no matter how brief they are, really do wonders. As we got to the designated room, I was ready to adopt him and feed him Lucky Charms three times a day. Suheir Hammad was sharing this particular workshop--Spoken Word Poetry--and she was something else. Smoking hot, with a commanding presence, her Brooklyn accent (infused with a few Arabic words) strong, there isn't one word to describe her but Spunk. She's so spunky! And kinda scary. I got told off because I was doing my journalistic duties for this blog and videoing her as she performed one of her poems. Reprimanded by the legendary Suheir Hammad, the things I do for you all! Apparently, she hates being on stage, hates anyone videoing her, and hates photographs. I didn't expect that at all. She voiced my thoughts exactly about the semantic nature of 'Spoken Word Poetry'. Why is the 'Word' interjected like that? What else would Spoken Poetry be if without words. Anyhoo, the workshop was ah.. fine (poetry isn't really my thing, becomes even less so when the discussion went all deep and insightful, so don't ask what I was doing in the workshop in the first place, mashi) but I wish it was more interactive (stupid students, you're facing two amazing poets, SPEAK dammit!) and more close-knit. The 15 extra kids who weren't even signed up for this and invited themselves over didn't ruin this experience at all. Ok, they didn't exactly ruin it...but something along those lines. Time was up, and I had to escort Remi once again back to the bus. Cue more one on one conversations, this time about political nature. I had to resort to begging a group of guys for a lighter. I told Remi smoking is a filthy habit, and laughed when before he asked why no one smoked on campus. Miskeen, he doesn't know this campus at all. Hey, I know Remi is awesome and cool and whatnot, but having some fan girl who appeared out of nowhere cutting him off by expressing her delight at seeing him is a staple for a bitch slap, no? Lucky for her, I had breakfast that day. Dialogue between us resumed, and as he reluctantly boarded the bus again (he had a lot to say) I came away this time with the correct impression that he is a genuinely nice, self-deprecating humorous, down to earth all round amazing guy with a huge amount of passion for Falasteen. Check him out at, of which he's a co-founder.

'AMAZING' was the only word I could use to describe the Creative Writing Poetry workshop (yes I said Poetry) with Adam Foulds and Nathalie Handal. Their sweet, passionate, talented personalities shined through them in the hour we sat together getting to know each other.
By getting inspiration from a teacher, Foulds had a change of mind and heart, and so he decided to become a writer instead of your usual scientist. Admitting he worked manual jobs to support his writings, Foulds exhibited his hard work and efforts to achieve his dream. He expressed how he found a kind of expression through poetry, a discovery of who he was, and how poetry can reflect feelings and emotions at any certain point in time. My reflections on this writer…well I have to say that he is one of the most NICEST, SWEETEST, and TALENTED writers in this world, and I was extremely honored at having the pleasure of meeting him…and being his student escort!
What can I say about Nathalie? Of Palestinian origin, Nathalie used to hear her family speaking stories of Palestine and decided she wanted to share them. After persuading her father to let her study English, she was sent to an all womens college and now she is an award winning poet. Having lived abroad all her life, she found a connection with her home (Bethlehem) through poetry. Identifying how poetry has no language, she asserts how a writer can create their own language, but of course they must know the rules of writing. All in all, this woman had absolute kindness glowing from her. She was even late to the bus because she stayed to take pictures, and switch contact information with us!…Can you say unforgettable people!

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