Poetry is a form of literature structured with rhymes and rhythms or loosely as free verse. It can be used to express the beauty of the natural world and feelings of love and sadness, or it can be used to reflect upon current events. On Thursday, Nov. 6, the Arabic Culture Student Association (ACSA) held Bellevue College’s first Arabic poetry night. The main organizers of the event, Brandy Byers and Orchideh Raisdanai, along with help from Sulaiman Alessa, Wesam Alkhani, Vanessa Chukri, Seif Allah Beyoumi, Laith Amira and Anna Brosius, prepared a hearty cultural dinner and invited three Arabic poets from around Washington: Lena Khalif Tuffaha, Rajaa Garbi and Maged Zaher. With hopes to “promote Arabic culture to both Arabs and non-Arabs,” Byers and other leaders of the event invited all students to a night of Arabic poetry readings. This event was a collaborative effort of both Arabs and non-Arabs in the BC community who share the vision of promoting Arabic culture.
Held in C130, the event was open to all BC students and faculty. The room was decorated with papier-mâché swirls that, according to ACSA member Freyja Vining, were designed to “mimic the swirls of Arabic calligraphy.” The event started with short greetings and quickly transitioned to Maged Zaher, who hails from Egypt, reciting some excerpts from his works such as, “Thank You for the Window Office” and “Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer.” According to Zaher, a common theme in his poetry is “classist struggles.”
The next poet was Lena Khalif Tuffaha, a first-generation Palestinian American with other Arabic heritage. Her poems reflected her experiences while learning English and living as a first-generation Arab American. She ended her performance with “Running Orders,” a poem depicting the dramatic experience of her friend who had to leave home to escape the bombing of Gaza. According to Khalif Tuffaha, “I think a lot of my poems have to do with experiences people traditionally think of as political. In addition, because I’m bilingual, I’m interested in language and its impact on our lives.” Khalif Tuffaha’s inspiration to become a poet mostly comes from her grandfather who “was a very well-known poet in Jordan. He was always storytelling and talking to us.” To her, “poetry became this very loving medium of expression.” Lastly, she added that “it would be cool for people outside of the Arab culture to understand poetry as an art form and how we, in the Arab world, deeply care about it.”
The final poet was Rajaa Gharbi, described as “an international painter, poet and socio-linguist,” who read her poems in both Arabic and English. There were various themes in her poetry, but she stated, “Everything influences my poetry, from the dew dancing on the leaves in the morning to a thought or an idea.” According to Gharbi, “All my poems are about love, one manifestation of it or another.” She added that “there’s nothing without love. It’s not exclusively romantic love between two people. Love is everything that nurtures life.” Gharbi was drawn into poetry because “my mother wrote poetry and my father spoke almost exclusively in parables and proverbs.” Her love for poetry also stems from her early exposure to many classics like Shakespeare, which were translated and performed in Arabic.
The event ended with the students of the ACSA reciting a short Arabic poem that portrays the relationship between a mother and her child. According to Brosius, “there are many misconceptions about the Arabic culture and we’re hoping to educate people about the beauty of the culture.” Byers also concurred with that sentiment and added that, “by next summer, hopefully, we’ll have an Arab culture week. It’s an opportunity to get everybody involved in the Arab culture.”
Mohamed Abdulrahman, a BC student who attended the poetry event, mentioned that the event “was very educational and made me see the Arabic culture in a different aspect.” Abdulrahman felt that “all the poets resonated with me and all of them had different aspects that inspired others.” Byers, Brosius, and other leaders of ACSA hope to further their program and have more events planned for the future, including a bake sale on Nov. 13, and the first week of December.