When reading Susan Abulhawa's collection of poetry titled My Voice Sought the Wind, I made the mistake of going in with traditional Arabic poetry in mind, as some have compared her to Mahmoud Darwish. This made everything that much more harsh and hard-hitting. Her poetry has a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, and I believe that perfectly sums up Palestine for many; beautiful but tainted with ugliness, and sometimes, you need to shed light on that.
None of her poems only evoke one emotion in the reader, it really is a mixture of many emotions, and this rawness is what gives her poems an honesty and naturalness that I admire. Nothing is just good, just bad, or just sad; there are many layers of emotion in her poems. The "good" in her poetry are the parts where she is nostalgic, reminisces, speaks of hope and love.
I especially love how she began with a poem paying homage to the symbol of Palestine; olive oil. It is the beginning of everything, the oldest thing on the land. "A token/ Something from the soil of things shared/ a heritage/ a longing/ a wound." Palestine is the source of all her feelings.
I also fell in love with Susan's descriptions, the way she knows exactly how to paint a picture that immediately comes alive in the minds of her readers. When she refers to olive oil, jibneh (cheese), za'atar (thyme), readers are instantly transported to Palestine; you can smell, feel and taste it.
An example of the "bad" in her book is the poem Lexi. It talks about the bad experiences of life, like having a dear friend die from cancer and feeling helpless. We all have that special friend that we have dozens of memorable moments with, but her poem talks about sadness, loss, and how we sometimes take these things for granted.
As for the "ugly", I find that to be most prominent in her poem Wala, where Susan talks about the suffering, humiliation, and degradation of Palestinian workers who are reduced to animals, working hard to barely provide for their families, and the only thing keeping them going is the fact that their families haven't heard them being called "Wala" (boy) by settlers.
She sheds light on the brutality and ugliness of the occupation, how the occupation constantly tries to break the Palestinians; "Your eyes down/ Heart down/ You put your toolbox down to know/ On the Zionist settler's back door/ where the help goes/ But/ The Zionist settler boss-man yells/ Wala/ Mish hon el yom!/ Not there today/ Boy!/ And all you can do is thank Allah that your/ Wife and your babies are not/ There to hear them call you/ Wala".
I also like the way she used the term "el-Ghorba" in her poem Ramadan in el-Ghorba, which refers to the state of constantly feeling like an outsider, no matter where you go, and this is another ugly result of the occupation, as all Palestinians, especially those outside Palestine, constantly have this feeling because they will never fully belong anywhere else but in their country. She talks about breaking her fast with the antidepressant Zoloft, highlighting the unhappiness and depression that is always right under the surface of Palestinians in el-Ghorba.
Another one of my favourite poems is How You've Grown, where she addresses the unbreakable bond of love between a mother and her child, and how she cherishes even the smallest of things, making the sacrifices she makes for them all the more significant.
The poem that I found difficult to fall in love with was her poem Black. Although I believe she makes valid points, and I understand her reference to Palestinians as being black and blue, signifying the abuse and torture they endure, I did find the poem comes across a bit derogatory and could easily be misinterpreted.
These are only examples of the vivid images and experiences that come alive in her poetry. Although at times her words are brash and aggressive, and I would say, not for the faint of heart, as it is seriously like a punch in the face, I believe such language is necessary for the impact she is going for.