Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
My latest book is a poetry collection titled The Taste of the Earth. It was published on July 1st, 2019 by Press 53
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
The collection is a “memoir in poems.” In The Taste of the Earth, poems weave together personal history with my cultural heritage within a broader perspective on history, language, and mythology. The book invites the reader to revisit Egypt’s mythical past and Lebanon’s turmoil, and my impressions upon returning there after twenty-five years.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
One of the aspects that characterize The Taste of the Earth would be its formal experimentation. The collection alternates free verse with pantoums, prose poems, haibuns, and anima methodi poems, as well as persona poems told from the point of view of inanimate objects. A couple of long sections titled “Meditations” have complex forms. “Meditations Over Phoenician Letters,” is an abecedarian, and “Meditations Over the Eye of Horus,” is formed by a series of haibuns juxtaposing ancient rituals with more recent memories of Egypt and personal reminiscences. Both “Meditations” incorporate Arabic script as well as visual symbols and characters.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
I think it would have to be Diane Seuss’ words: “As the focus here, often, is war and its devastations, witnessed and remembered, The Taste of the Earth is rife with sorrow songs, but each is moored by the speaker as a beholder of earth’s beauty as it pours in through the senses and finds a home in language: “[T]he jacaranda’s blue light anchors me back,” Habra writes, “whispering, yes, it’s here, deep inside, fluttering like a dove’s wings.”
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
I find this question compelling, but I am too close to my work to objectify it in this fashion and feel that readers might shed light on such connections.
- Why this book? Why now?
My first poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis, chronicled my youth in Egypt alongside the impact of the Lebanese civil war that compelled us to leave Lebanon. The Taste of the Earth is an extension of Tea in Heliopolis, written from the perspective of exile and after having revisited Lebanon after two decades. It also offers a broader reflection on the aftermath of violence in the region.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
I have a passion for languages and taught Spanish and Spanish literature for thirty-three years at Western Michigan University. I loved imparting my fourth language to students and watching their progress and enthusiasm.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Readers interested in other cultures might get a deeper understanding of these countries’ different facets and complexities. Through a personal trajectory, these poems’ self-reflexivity represents a quest for truth that is universal.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
I love to write while listening to a background of classical music. Despite our numerous displacements, I have always cooked Lebanese traditional recipes, such as kibbeh, tabbouleh, and meat pies seasoned with pomegranate, to name only a few, and my pantry is packed with relevant ingredients and spices. The Taste of the Earth is redolent with scents and fragrances associated with a sense of longing.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I am rereading The Monkey Grammarian, a poetic essay, or extensive prose poem by my favorite poet and essayist, Octavio Paz. I also read poetry every day from my piles of recently-acquired poetry collections.
Learn more about Hedy on her website.