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FEATURED POET
Confession
by Tunisian-American Poet Leila Chatti

    Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion,
    forgotten.
    Mary giving birth, The Holy Qur'an


Truth be told, I like Mary a little better
when I imagine her like this, crouched
and cursing, a boy-God pushing on
her cervix (I like remembering
she had a cervix, her body ordinary
and so like mine), girl-sweat lacing
rivulets like veins in the sand,
her small hands on her knees
not doves but hands, gripping,
a palm pressed to her spine, fronds
whispering like voyeurs overhead—
(oh Mary, like a God, I too take pleasure
in knowing you were not all
holy, that ache could undo you
like a knot)—and, suffering,
I admire this girl who cared
for a moment not about God
or His plans but her own
distinct life, this fiercer Mary who'd disappear
if it saved her, who'd howl
to Hell
with salvation
if it meant this pain,
the blessed adolescent who squatted
indignant in a desert, bearing His child
like a secret she never wanted to hear.


SOURCE: Halal If You Hear Me, BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3, Edited
by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo, Haymarket Books,
Chicago, Illinois, USA, 2019.

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Poetry Corner

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LEILA CHATTI, born in 1990
in Oakland, California, is a
Tunisian-America poet. Her
father is Tunisian and her
mother is American. A dual
citizen, raised Muslim, she
spends the winter months in
the United States and the
summer in Tunisia with her
father's family.

Religion has always been
important to her and shows up
frequently in her work,
including aspects of
Catholicism, her mother's
religion.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts
degree from the Residential
College in the Arts &
Humanities at Michigan State
University. After completion of
her Master of Fine Arts degree
from North Carolina State
University, she was awarded
the Academy of American
Poets Prize,

In 2017, her poem "Upon
realizing there are ghosts in
the water" was shortlisted for
the Brunel International
African Poetry Prize.

Fellowships and grants
received include those from:
~ the Fine Arts Work Center in
Provincetown;
~ Tin House Writers' Workshop;
~ Dickinson House;
~ the Barbara Deming
Memorial Fund;
~ Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing; and
~ Helene Wurlitzer Foundation
of New Mexico.

She is the author of the
chapbooks
~
Tunsiya/Amrikiya (2017) and
~
Ebb (2018).
Her debut poetry collection,
Deluge, is forthcoming by
Copper Canyon Press, in April
2020.

She lives in Cleveland, Ohio,
where she is the inaugural
Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in
Writing and Publishing at
Cleveland State University.
She also serves as Consulting
Poetry Editor at the
Raleigh
Review.

I had a difficult, extremely painful young adulthood. I
wrote to make sense of my suffering. I still write to make
sense of my suffering, the suffering I encountered then
and the suffering I’ve since amassed. I write now, too, for
and about other things, but this remains my primary
impulse.
~ LEILA CHATTI, ON BECOMING A POET, IN INTERVIEW WITH CHAYA
BHUVANESWAR,
THE ADROIT JOURNAL, JUNE 4, 2018.

There are some poems—rare, magical ones—that come
down fully formed, as if some ethereal hand delivers them
to me. It may sound absurd, but it really does feel like it
comes from outside of me, or at least happens with its own
agency, while I sit back passively. And it happens very
quickly, in a surge. I find that I receive a number of these
“magic poems” in the shower, so I keep a waterproof
notebook there to catch them before they disappear.

I also have a practice of writing a poem every day for a
month every other month, so six months out of the year I
write 30 or 31 poems in a row. I do believe this exercise
has made it easier for me to write certain kinds of poems
quicker; I’ve built that muscle, and I keep that creative,
leaping half of my brain from drifting too far.
~ LEILA CHATTI, ON HER WRITING PROCESS, IN INTERVIEW WITH
KONYA SHAMSRUMI, AFRICAN POETRY PRESS, DECEMBER 18, 2017.

I love that poetry has a great deal of freedom. You can
make a poem look however you like, you can take giant
leaps or toy with language, or squeeze a swell of story or
emotion into a very small box. I enjoy how poems are
distilled; brevity and potency appeal to me. A person can
memorize a poem, whereas it is very difficult to memorize
a novel or a film in its entirety. A poem can be kept in a
pocket and carried always. A poem can change a life in less
than a minute. That’s power.
~ LEILA CHATTI, ON WHAT EXCITES HER ABOUT WRITING POETRY,
IN INTERVIEW WITH GEOSI GYASI,
GEOSI READS, APRIL 4, 2017.

HALAL IF YOU HEAR ME
BREAKBEAT POETS
VOL. 3
EDITED BY
FATIMAH ASGHAR
& SAFIA ELHILLO

HAYMARKET BOOKS / USA
2019