COVID Poetry by my students

With COVID and teaching online I’ve managed to come up with different ways to engage my students with the material we are studying. For instance, in my Modern Poetry Class, we are looking at poetry of witness (see Carolyne Forche’s Poetry of Witness and Against Forgetting).

We discuss how poetry is one way to document the traumas happening around us, to us, to our loved ones, and this sense of catastrophic urgency that has taken over our lives. We miss human interaction and campus but we have managed to connect to each other differently through online learning. I asked my students to try documenting their experience with COVID and the traumas that they want to bear witness to — and here are some of their poems, shared with permission. They are all literature majors and wonderful people and I am honored to share their work:

I remember February’s friends,

January’s birthday celebration,

December’s Christmas in London with my cousin,

November’s rainy car rides featuring the soothing sounds of Nothing But Thieves,

October’s ragdoll and witch costumes for Halloween,

I remember being happy,

I remember feeling seen,

I don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday,

Or the day before that,

Or the one before that,

I don’t remember if a smile even crossed my face,

I don’t remember the last time I looked at my calendar,

I don’t remember the last time I left my bed for a purpose,

I don’t remember the meaning of a good night sleep,

I don’t remember when I stopped counting the deaths,

Or when they stopped scaring me,

I remember when it began though,

I remember my last day of uni,

February 23rd,

One week turned into two,

Two weeks turned into a month,

A month turned into nine,

And I am slowly but surely losing my mind,

What is it like to function?

What is it like to be human when you’ve become so numb?

Desensitized from a pandemic that’s taking over your life,

When nothing brings you sadness or joy anymore,

What have you become?

A body with no soul,

Once alive,

Now done.

-Nina Q.

— Nina Q.

21st Century child—
Open the windows,
Lock all doors,
Face the blue four walls
You ever so adored.  

21st Century child-
Sick with ague,
Stay here, I’ll take care of you—
Once I’ve dealt with
All sixty million of you.

Mother-to-be, hunched over on your hospital bed-
Tears, tears flowing down her cheeks,
The virus was too strong,
That life you once carried,
Nothing but death in your womb.

21st Century child—
Open your window, Stay indoors.
The howling wind at night comforts you,
Plastic cans roll down the street,
The street you once loved and adored.

21st Century child—
The death-toll rises.
I know that someday you’ll forget this ever happened,
Carry on with your life.
Carry on against forgetting.

—Sal S.

“You never know what you have until its gone”

Is a saying we wish to never hear

I want to see the smiles on peoples faces

But now we all look like robots from different places

I want to breathe in fresh air

Without becoming a scare

The people closest to me have become strangers

It seems like we all view each other as dangers

My social skills have deteriorated

And so has my mind (Anonymous)

wallowing in isolation, anxiety, melancholy

the comfort in the confinement of those four walls

sprinkling the seeds of solitude in my mind

“it’s too dangerous to go out still.”

is that a lie i keep telling myself? to further isolate myself? till when? till i vanish?

the world is moving on

while i sometimes wake up and realize,

i don’t quite remember what “outside” feels like. or smells like.

it constantly feels as though i am in the middle of the sea, floating.

sometimes i can see the shore,

i even try to swim to it but the waves are too harsh on me.

sometimes i do make it to the shore

but then find myself in the water, again.

not knowing how i got there.

– fatima alhashash

Locked inside houses

fear hurting our mental health

missing the sunshine – Hasan

Perspective

Although the world came to a complete shutdown

Our hearts opened up

We connected with our family’s

and managed to open up

Although the streets were empty

The house was filled up

With nostalgic connections

we should’ve never given up

In a world so fast, we needed a pause

to sit back and reflect

To dream of a better tomorrow

with a system less corrupt

To acknowledge that humans are humans

and lift each other up

I’m grateful for my privilege

and all the things I didn’t have to give up

I learned to be appreciative

even if it’s not enough

because even something so small

can mean so much

So, here’s to the future

and the struggles we’ve overcome

Through all these hardships

a better tomorrow will lift us all up.

Sara Mahmoud

Online Class

“Hello?”

The screen is black, the clock is ticking

“I can’t see you”

Did they forget to practice social distancing?

“Are you there?”

Did they switch their masks? The social and the medical?

“Can you hear me?”

I wonder what’s the problem, is it really just something technical?

“The connection is weak.”

I think all connections are weak, human ones the most

“Can you try again?”

I have, but then again, what is the cost?

“Hello? Answer, I insist!”

The participant you are trying to reach no longer exists

Hawra’a.M.Ali

Started as a global panic,

Then came the if’s and when’s, the memes the jokes

Then the need to blame.

Conspiracy theories followed.

and then—agonizingly slowly—acceptance found it’s way in

Some believed, others didn’t

… it seems as though the thousand lives we lost

aren’t enough of a testament

Forced us closer, yet continues to tear our insides apart

Call it earth’s revenge

Call it a tyrant with a crown

Alaa Alrabah

The new year started off with happiness until the Covid-19 disease suddenly appeared. Out of china it quickly spread and filled all cotenants with gloom and dread. The world was shook and in definite dismay that what thought to be a small invisible disease could take our lives away. Our normal lives disappeared and all we knew was quarantine appeared and took over our lives. There are victims of this uncontrollable pandemic, with no vaccines or cures. Covid is steeling husbands from wives and daughters from mothers and is leaving families crying for their suffering brothers. Covid has no preference to whom it chooses, it ravages its victims until they die. The only way humanity can be saved is by wearing masks. Empathy and love for each other could save the day, if each and every one of us follow everything the correct way. -Noora Mohammed

Birdwatcher, when do you get to be so wild?

When do you get to be free?

Birdwatcher, when was the last time the sunray touched your skin?

Windows shut and doors locked

War criminals on screen

Wish there was something better to see

I know it’s hard

Birdwatcher, you may lose your sanity

Just hold on to the stars before they fall into the midnight sea – Khaled Alajmi

“Sleepless Nights”

Imprisoned in our drunken thoughts of escaping

Is there any single hope for changing?

If the moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to

Then why does it say, there is no directions available to pursue?

I wanted to live a dream, he granted it for me

And yet, there is no time to spare

O you, lonely soul, are you melancholy, or are you in despair?

Words cut like a knife sometimes

But it pierces my heart instead

They say that the end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end

Will it even ever change?

By Maryam Al-Qallaf

Dear diary, My father is sick and we don’t know if it is a flu or the virus that is taking over our lives. He is showing symptoms but we are kidding our selves by saying its not it.

Dear diary, My father did the corona test, they told us that if no one called you in twenty four hours that means you are negative. There is hope.

Dear diary, We were wrong to hope. They took my father to be isolated for recovery. They took him like a prisoner who was dangerous to society. We are all crying because of worry.

Dear diary, We are waiting for our results. The days are moving agonizingly slow. Will we be okay?

Dear diary, We are safe! That was the first light we saw after days of darkness.

Dear diary, My father is home. My father is safe, we are happy again.

-Zahra Alayan

How I am a “witness” of COVID-19:

I will try as much as possible not to seem like a drama queen while clarifying how it is to experience and to be a witness of a pandemic, which is COVID-19 in this case. I have never been through anything like this in my life nor have I ever thought of experiencing such thing. The virus happened so suddenly and unexpectedly; I do not think anybody have predicted anything like this to happen. In addition to this, it is so strange to me, how a teeny tiny virus, that cannot be seen by human beings’ naked eyes, can affect the whole world like this and turn it upside down, that can force you to stay quarantined, keep your social distance, that can force you to wear masks, bans you from many things including going outside and traveling, that has the ability of killing those old, poor people. However, we should still look at the bright side of the circumstance, we should still have hope, it will all end soon, nothing stays forever. – Amnah Rashed

in the span of 9 months, i have managed to reorganize my room twice, paint my sister’s wall, hyperventilate over online classes, solve endless crossword puzzles on the back of cereal boxes, re-read books that meant the world to me when i was 15,
felt nothing, felt everything
wondered if that’s what emily dickenson must’ve felt like all her life
what if isolation helped her tap deeply into herself allowing her to feel things: a lot, loudly, and too much
wondered how so much of her work now connects – despite her having the choice to self-isolate and i didnt
loved ones whom we saw everyday are no longer within arms reach
friends who knew our houses like the back of their hand
friends who shared inside jokes with our siblings and helped around the kitchen with our parents now solely exist through cracked phone screens – their laughter still managing to bounce off my living room walls
however, in the midst of all the frustration, fear and straight up anger
i found solace and solitude being around my family
i discovered my mother’s secret recipe to her triple chocolate cake, knew where my nephew hides his secret stash of gummy bears, and
laughed at old vhs tapes of ourselves doing the macarena in 2005
2020 has tested me in so many different ways, however, i have never had this much appreciation and gratitude for all the things i have as it was a chance to slow down, reorientate and reflect.
– noor

Depth and words

I recently experimented with a release of a small prose-poetry book. It doesn’t really have a genre and I was approached by a local publisher (they only publish Arabic books), so I was hesitant and didn’t think the book would receive any attention. Forget the Words is not as close to my heart as On Love and Loss which is still selling rather well on Amazon.

But this is not the point of this post. The book managed to reach a few people’s hearts, on a very intimate level. Firstly, my mother read and understood it, and she was able to see that the book was fragmented because I believe in fragments and inconsistencies. My mother is not one to enjoy English books, which reminds me of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” – in which she asserts that as long as her mother could enjoy her work, then this means she can reach a wider audience.

I received feedback from people I hadn’t  met, sending me messages, emails, letting me know that the book spoke to them, that they were able to connect. Some were previous students of mine, others were new, and then there were those who had simply heard of the book by word of mouth. I am overwhelmed with the amount of citations on Twitter and Instagram! I type in #forget_the_words and random pictures come up with quotes from my book! It is, needless to say, an exhilarating feeling.

When I wrote the book, I was simply angry with words, with life, and I hurled the book at the world. I didn’t care for its success. I haven’t even shared it with all of my colleagues, it is not academic, not scholarly, not what I would term creative fiction. One colleague though, and a beautiful friend of mine, Janet, took the time to read it and reflect upon it. I think that’s what really got me- she actually did reflect on it. She didn’t read the book because I wanted her to read it (at least that’s not what it felt like) and she was able to make the links, the connections. She told me that the words took her to another place, that she was immersed within the dialogue and the symbolism, the metaphors I used. And that’s precisely it, I just hadn’t realized it. Janet helped me put it into words, and I’ll just borrow her analysis here: I wanted those who read it to feel as though the dialogue wasn’t mine, that the Sun and the Moon represented much more, and that human connection and depth is all we could ever live for. I seek depth everywhere. I seek depth in conversations, in friendships and relationships. Like Anais Nin once wrote: “I must be a mermaid, I have no fears of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

So the book has given me a chance to connect with people on a deeper level. I am grateful to whatever entity is in charge, the Universe, the publisher who took a risk publishing in English rather than Arabic, my friends who read the book, readers who I never met, and those who took the time to think about the words, when I so blatantly asked them to ‘forget the words.’

  

   

       

Literary Madness

Literary Madness, my academic monograph, is now available on Amazon US and UK.

Here is the link for scholars of literature and disability studies:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Literary-Madness-British-Postcolonial-Bedouin/dp/1443897566/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474910925&sr=8-1&keywords=literary+madness+shahd

 

 

Considering Disability Journal

For disability scholars and writers, this is my first introduction to the journal as International Editor. Other well-known figures on our editorial board include Dr Tom Shakespeare, David Bolt, and others. 

Here is the link and please browse other articles as we worked so hard to encompass a variety of voices: 

https://cdjournal.scholasticahq.com/article/840-to-risk-and-to-represent-local-and-global-disability-in-context 

Love and Academia

Today someone reminded me of how difficult it was for me during my undergraduate days. My postgraduate days were extremely exhausting and very gloomy at times. There were many days where I thought of giving up on academia. There were times where I couldn’t hold a pen. And yet, despite the struggle, I managed. Today my papers fell out of my briefcase, everywhere, it was a total mess. And as a student of mine bent down to help me gather them, for that one moment, as I looked at her, I had a flashback of myself, as a student, struggling to carry my literature books and dragging myself to class. As we gathered the papers and I thanked her, my mind went back to the past.

It has been only two years since I got my PhD, October 2014. That day was a day where the clock stopped ticking, the viva seemed to go on forever, and I couldn’t bring myself to see the end of the tunnel. But at 3 pm that certain October day, I was finally who I wanted to be, and where I wanted to be. I rememebr being in shock for a few days after. And when I came home, I was met with endless love and celebration. 

People look at me today and assume it was an easy journey. Some people tell me I am too young to be a professor. Some tell me that I wasted years amongst books. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was never about the degree. It was simply about love. 

   
     

Semester Over

I have been teaching at the Arab Open University (Kuwait Branch) for about two years. I was also teaching there while I was a PhD candidate. It was more like an internship at the time, I was doing it mainly for the experience, and I learned so much during that time. I am extremely grateful to those who believed in me, especially Dr. Chekra Allani, the Head of the English Department at the time. When I was first interviewed for the job, Dr. Chekra was very supportive. She said that she had found a “star” in the field, and all I wanted was to make her proud. I was finalizing my PhD thesis at the time, teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates who struggled with Shakespeare’s inaccessibility, and attempting to do a good job, leave a mark somehow. And I think I did. I have resigned from AOU, moving elsewhere, starting a new chapter.
But before I “move on”, and I don’t believe we ever really move on, I have to write this post. Over the last few days, I let my students know that I was leaving. As always, it is difficult to say goodbye to them, to end this chapter. This week, during one of my lectures, I lost my voice. We tend to overdo it when we lecture, as the material is dense, and should be covered within a limited time. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted, essentially dead, and left voiceless. As some of my friends and colleagues know, I struggle with a chronic disability, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and in general, my energy levels aren’t that great. Fatigue kicks in during the summer and heat aggravates my body, affecting even my ability to speak, to lecture. So on that particular day, I was exhausted, put my head down on my desk, and shed a tear or two. I felt like giving up, like I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, that it was too difficult to maintain a full-time job teaching. At the end of the semester, I am usually more than ready to hibernate forever.
And yet, it was only a day later, where my students sent me emails, tweets, messages, cards, everything you can think of – in which they expressed their gratitude, their appreciation, and how they have enjoyed the semester. I will always be grateful for this experience, this beautiful experience of working with amazing colleagues, and students who come to class because they really want an education, a second shot, a second chance at learning. A few students in particular will always stand out in my memory, and they were the ones who beautifully expressed these sentiments:

   
              

 

The playground: class

The classroom for me is a place of endless possibilities and meaning. But in one word, it’s a playground. You play. You play with ideas, with words, with theories, with stories. You get to really say what “shouldn’t” be said. You get to expose theories that are centuries old, and relate them to today. My newest class is an American Literature class, and I am experimenting with different ways to teach it. I decided to assign the texts to students to present, and when the time came to present the work, a student asked if they were supposed to stand up or sit down while they present. Now, normally, the idea is to stand up, to vocalize, to rely on body language. But I don’t believe in this rigid way of presenting. There are multiple ways to get your ideas across. As a professor who is not always able to stand up, I understand limitations very well. So I informed him that it was up to them, not me. I am not the authority figure. I don’t want to be the authority figure. You decide whether you want to stand up or sit down, how many minutes you want to talk, and the angle you’d like to tackle.

I was met with surprised faces. And then smiles. They loved that the power was not held by one person.

“As individuals, you are all different. I want you to realize this and realize that no one can tell you how things SHOULD be done,” I insisted.

The discussion in class that day was ultimately fruitful and a success. We talked about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and related it to plastic surgery nowadays, whether one should alter the body, what constitutes a flaw, nature vs. science.. it was truly endless. I had to stop the discussion at the end of class because time was up, but some of the students took the argument outside!

And the other day, I attended Dr. Hanan’s class as a student. I used to be her student 12 years ago. She introduced me to the class as an ex-student who she “messed up” years ago. Funny how I wouldn’t have it any other way. My world view was forever altered when I read Plato, Butler, Cixous, Spivak, Irigary, and many others. Sitting next to her in class reminded me of my amazing undergraduate days. The uncanny part was sitting next to her, knowing what she was about to say, how she would explain this theory or that, and being able to predict the exact wording – especially when she was explaining mimicry, Plato (her favorite), and other gender theories. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions: nostalgia for Kuwait University days, gratitude, and happiness, knowing that I was also doing the same thing in my literature classes. Hanan’s policy has always been an open-door one, with an emphasis on participation and discussion. Twelve years ago, the classroom was the place I listened, was forced to argue, formulate my own opinion and voice, and today, it is a playground where everyone gets a taste of freedom. And how can that be anything but fun?