12 Poets From The Countries Affected By Trump's Travel Ban
The outrage following Donald Trump’s immigration order, which he signed on January 27 as an executive order designed to keep refugees from entering the United States for 120 days and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations out for three months, was immediate; and opposition to the order arose just as quickly. Although the controversial order — which affected immigrants, refugees, and other travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — was later blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Trump administration has announced a rewrite of the immigration ordert, reported to appear this week. While Trump has given Americans little indication that the Constitutionality of the revised order will be any better than that of the last, it’s important to remember that this fight is probably only just beginning — and there’s more you can do than protest at the airport or donate to the ACLU (although keep doing those good things too.)
At a time like this, the importance of hearing and sharing the stories of immigrants and refugees cannot be overstated. It is these stories: of the families torn apart by war and political violence, of their hopes for making better lives for themselves away from their homelands, and of their hard-won entry into the United States, that remind everyone of the necessity of continuing to fight against the ignorant and hate-filled autocracy that the Trump administration aspires to.
As we all wait for this next wave of Trump-insanity to break, check out these 12 poets from the countries affected by Trump’s immigration order.
Poet and author of the 2016 National Book Award-nominated poetry collection Look: Poems, Solmaz Sharif is an Iranian-American writer, a 2013 NEA fellow, and a current lecturer at Stanford University. Born in Istanbul to Iranian parents, Sharif’s poetry is concerned with conflict and language — exploring modern warfare and the words we use to describe (and justify, and obscure, and normalize) it. And I am not being hyperbolic when I say my bookshelves would not have been the same last year without her.
Ghada Alatrash is a Syrian writer and translator — she grew up in Damascus before attending high school and college in Texas, where her Syrian diplomat father retired — who has translated the poetry of Arabic writers like Youssef Abdul Samad and Najat Abdul Samad, with the expressed goal of amplifying the voices of marginalized communities around the world. Though not poetry, her first English-language book is a recently-published collection of seven fictional stories about Syrian women, titled Stripped to the Bone: Portraits of Syrian Women, which was released in May.
Safia Elhillo describes herself as "Sudanese by way of Washington, DC," a slam poet and writer whose work has been translated into Arabic and Greek. Elhillo’s debut poetry collection, The January Children, will be available in March, from the University of Nebraska Press, and begins with a story of the generation of children born in British-occupied Sudan, who were categorized into age groups based on their height and each given the birth date of January 1. From there Elhillo explores post-colonialism, displacement, and how the history of a country like Sudan has been fictionalized by the occupiers and mythologized by its people.
Khaled Mattawa is another poet who both composes his own poetry and works to translate the writing of other Arabic poets. Born in Benghazi, Libya before immigrating to the United States where he attended high school and college, Mattawa published his first collection of English-language poems in 1995, and his first translated collection: Questions and Their Retinue by the Iraqi poet Hatif Janabi, a year later. Since then he has gone on to write and translate a number of collections, including his 2010 title, Tocqueville, which is fierce and political, exploring the experience of being Muslim and a person of color, musing on America as a political experiment, and commenting on the experience of bearing cultural and social witness.
Without a doubt the most globally-recognized writer on this list — thanks to Beyoncé and her album Lemonade, which credits Warsan Shire with film adaptation and poetry — the Kenyan-born Somali poet is an artistic force to be reckoned with: author of the 2011 collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, and the 2015 collections Her Blue Body and Our Men Do Not Belong to Us. Her writing most often focuses on spaces of displacement and belonging, and the experience of moving through the world in a female body.
Born in Kufa, Iraq, poet Adnan al-Sayegh is a writer who has literally risked his life in order to put his words out into the world. Sentenced to death in Iraq in 1996 for writing that spoke out against the Iraqi dictatorship and exposed hard truths about the lives of Iraqi citizens, al-Sayegh was exiled in Jordan, Lebanon, and Sweden, before ultimately resettling in London. Later, after returning to Iraq in 2006 to read his poetry at the Al-Marbed Poetry Festival in Basra, al-Sayegh was again sentenced to death and having his tongue cut out (he returned to exile in London.) al-Sayegh is the author of 11 poetry collections, including last year’s Pages from the Biography of an Exile.
Known for writing poetry that has been deemed "too erotic" by Syrian publishers, the Syrian/Sunni Muslim poet Maram al-Masri has been writing since she was a young girl growing up in Latakia, and later Damascus. Currently resettled in Paris, her books have been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Corsican, German, and English, including the 1997 collection (her most well-known to-date) A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor: Selected Poems.
Raghda Gamal is a Yemeni journalist and poet who has had two powerful collections of poetry translated into English: the 2012 collection Lost in a Fairy Tale, and later that year Once Upon a Revolution, which is composed of 13 poems and photographs that detail Gamal’s life during the 2011 political uprising in Yemen — and experience she recently shared more widely via a Huffington Post article published last week, headlined: A Message To My Child, In Memory Of The Revolution In Yemen.
Iraqi-American Dunya Mikhail is another writer who has challenged her country’s authoritarian regime, at the risk of her own safety and life. Mikhail was born in Baghdad, where she worked as a translator and journalist for the Baghdad Observer before being placed on a list of Saddam Hussein’s enemies, and immigrating to the United States. Her 2005 PEN Translation Award-winning poetry collection, The War Works Hard, was Mikhail’s first book published in English, and sheds light on the atrocities that occurred in Iraq while challenging the heroism and glorification of war.
Nyabuoy Gatbel was born in the Pinyudo refugee camp, located on the border of South Sudan and Ethiopia, making the refugee experience a deeply personal one for the young poet. Her first poetry collection, The Fire Within, was the result of a GoFundMe campaign and saw a limited print run — so you’ll have to work to track this one down, as it’s currently out of print. In it she deals with myriad issues: race, gender, war, genocide, sexual and physical violence, birth, death, Western imperialism, Eurocentric ideals, her time at Pinyudo, the destruction of her community, and the process of immigration.
Sheida Mohamadi is an Iranian poet, novelist, and journalist who was the first Poet in Residence at the Jordan Center for Persian Studies at the University of California, Irvine, where her collection of poetry and photography, I Blink and You Are a Peacock, was published in 2016. Her writing focuses on women’s rights, including the poetry collection Aks-e Fowri-ye Eshqbazi — translated to The Snapshot of Lovemaking in English — which was published underground in Tehran in 2007. In addition to being translated into English, Mohamadi’s work has also been published in French, Kurdish, Swedish, and Turkish.
Sudanese poet and journalist Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi got his poetic start when he was just 15-years-old, with the publication of a poem entitled The Wind, which appeared in the literary journal Al-Shawa. Widely celebrated by readers in Sudan (although currently living in exile in London, as a result of his work on the Al-Sudani newspaper) his poetry has also been translated into English by the Sudanese poet Hafiz Kheir, with English poets Sarah Maguire and Mark Ford — including the 2016 collection A Monkey at the Window, which is filled with vivid imagery and falls into the tradition of great classic love poetry.