Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Poems for Palestine: a book review

Salsabeel Hamdan | 11-11-2019

Kevin, hiking in Montana

Most people who live outside of Gaza, Palestine, know just fragments about the kind of life we live under occupation and siege. Yes, you can learn from the news, but there is always something missing in such reports: a genuine connection with the people whose names (if they are mentioned at all) who appear briefly on our screens. These "real people" most often remain numbers, rather than coming alive as human beings with unique names and faces that will live on in the memory and conscience.

That is not true for Kevin King Hadduck, author of the new book, "Beloved Brother, Beloved Sister: Poems for Palestine," Kevin allows readers to observe through the pages of his book that missing, human element. He dedicates his words to those – Palestinians mostly, but others as well – who are usually addressed only in the impersonal context of political issues, without attention to who they are as people.

This is my interview with Kevin:

Who are you? What do you do?

For about 35 years, ending this past May, I had an academic career. For the last seven years, I served as an administrator and writing teacher at Carroll College in Montana (USA). Loved it. Now, I am a writer. I love to hike with my wife, with friends, with anyone who also loves to hike. I love to build and fix stuff, help Linda (his wife) with the lawn and gardens, sit and stare out our front window.

How did you come to know Gaza, Palestine and Israel?

My first introduction came at Carroll College, when Doaa (a Palestinian student from Gaza) walked into my office in September of 2016. We became friends, and she introduced me to We Are Not Numbers (WANN), through which I got to know more and more Palestinians.

How did you come to know so many youths from WANN?

First through Doaa, as I mentioned. Then through WANN members—Pam Bailey (the founder of WANN) and Palestinians in Gaza and Lebanon.

Tell us more about what your book is about.

It is a collection of poems that primarily celebrate friendship, but in order to do that, the poems recognize the cultural and political contexts of the friendships. Therefore, the poems have a deep, personal dimension, but also a cultural and political dimension.

Malak Mattar's painting, on the cover of Kevin's book

And the cover?

Oh oh oh! I love it. I love the work of Malak Mattar. Her paintings have inspired me, and this particular painting, of a woman holding a dove and reading a book, well, it just fits--or I hope my poems fit her wonderful painting, do it justice.

Who are the people featured in your poems?

Most are friends [many of whom are WANN writers]. A few are friends (or spouses) of friends. A few are fellow travelers in regard to the Palestinian cause. They are beautiful human beings.

What are some of the private and universal themes in your poems?

Friendship. Pain of separation and loss. Joy of discovering and rediscovering each other. Encouragement. Hope and its twin, despair. In one poem, I plead with my friend to please call me if war breaks out. I have developed an unsettling fear of losing one of these friends.

And joy. Ye gads, these friends are fun and uplifting!

What motivated you to write this book?

As my friendships deepened with the people named in my book, I felt a great sense of obligation and gratitude for the love they show me. These poems say, "thank you" and "I love you" in the best way I know how as a writer and a poet.

Why do you prefer poetry to convey these emotions?

Hmmm. The conciseness, imagery and figurative language typical of poetry allows two seemingly contrary things I especially value: 1) poignancy: getting to the heart of a matter aggressively and 2) ambiguity: forcing a reader to ponder the inescapable uncertainties.

What do you hope a person who is not Palestinian or Israeli takes from your book?

That it should never have to be said that "[ X ] are human too," as it should never have to be said that "black lives matter." However, we do have to say those things, repeatedly, in many ways, in the face of social and political forces that dehumanize, exploit and oppress.

More personally, I just want my readers to know these beautiful friends of mine.

Why should people read this book?

I feel confident the poems are good poetry, but I want readers to see, feel, understand in a direction that perhaps they have not looked, felt or thought before. I also have that personal-political motive: that readers will not simply "explore friendship," but "explore friendship with these people in this context."

Tell me about your experience mentoring WANN writers.

Loved it. The traditional classroom of 15-30 students is about the worst possible way to teach writing. Mentoring is far more effective and efficient. I guess, however, that only those I have mentored can say if my efforts helped them. I found it to be, also, a wonderful pathway to friendship.

What are the opinions of the Americans you know about the Palestinian people?

Did you say "Pakistan?" Yeah. I do hear that now and then. Sadly, many people here, even many educated people, really have no idea who you are. Many others tend to fall into the pro-Palestinian or the pro-Israeli camp, but quite often, it seems to me, they do so somewhat uncritically, according to whatever set of assumptions they've been handed or whatever news networks most influence their opinions. Whatever their orientation, opinions tend to be sharp and heated.

Are you criticized for supporting Palestine?

Yes, but not often. I have found people, generally, to be willing to listen, if they are interested and not already deeply entrenched.

Do you think there is anything different about the Palestinian youths you know compared to their peers in America?

For the most part, people are people are people. On the other hand, the young Palestinians I know tend to be more widely read (and this is just a generalization), more deeply experienced, less naive, I think. That is my impression, after 35ish years of working closely with thousands of college students of all sorts of social-political persuasions.

If you could change one thing, one opinion, one idea about Palestinian/Gazan people in the minds of American people, what would it be?

The proper goal of our activism should be the full, equal, unequivocal rights and recognition of all people who live in Palestine. Pay attention. Listen. Read dissident voices. Things are not as our major news networks (left or right) want you to believe. The Palestinian people have a very long, deep and rich heritage in that land. Get to know them!

Where can readers buy or download your book?

On my website, through my store. A digital copy also is available through Amazon.z

As simple as this work may seem at first – a collection of poems about people somewhere far away – it is actually far from simple. The rich life inside Kevin's words will make you realize how readily you can relate to "strangers.” By reading a few words, it will seem that the strangers in the poems can actually become your next friends, or even remind you of your own friends. After all, we are only strangers because we still don't know the stories that connect us together, showing us how familiar we are!

Posted: November 11, 2019


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