Videos of Azzam and others reciting the poem have tons of of 1000’s of views throughout Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. In December, Azzam learn the poem in U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s workplace.

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Zienaq Azzam, the 2022 Poet
Laureate for the town of Alexandria, Virginia. (Courtesy, City of Alexandria/Jeff Norman)

Alexandria Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam first discovered it troublesome to jot down about Palestine amid the continuing battle that began final October.

Now, her phrases in regards to the youngsters of Gaza have been translated into 5 languages and recited in all places, from senators’ workplaces to church buildings, from vigils to protests.

Azzam says she was moved to pen the poem “Write My Name” after studying a CNN report about mother and father in Gaza who had resorted to writing their youngsters’s names on their legs to assist establish them ought to they or their youngsters be killed.

More than 12,300 youngsters in Gaza have been killed for the reason that begin of the Israel-Hamas warfare on Oct. 7, in response to the Gaza Health Ministry. The UN company for Palestinian refugees mentioned that extra youngsters have been killed in Gaza within the final 4 months than youngsters killed within the final 4 years of warfare globally.

“It was such a sign of despair and disappointment and hopelessness,” Azzam mentioned of the CNN report. “My coronary heart was so devastated.”

“Write My Name” is written within the voice of a kid and displays the truth of oldsters in Gaza writing their youngsters’s names on their legs for identification. “Use the black everlasting marker with the ink that doesn’t bleed,” the kid within the poem says.

The final stanza explains why:

Write my title on my leg, Mama
When the bomb hits our home
When the partitions crush our skulls and bones
our legs will inform our story, how
there was nowhere for us to run

Videos of Azzam and others reciting the poem have tons of of 1000’s of views throughout Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. In December, Azzam learn the poem in U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s workplace.

“When I wrote it, I had no concept it could have that form of attain,” Azzam mentioned, “And it has made an consciousness about what’s occurring and the way horrific this example is. Everybody tells me they learn it, and so they cry.”

This was not the primary time Azzam, 68, wrote poetry about Palestine. Both of her mother and father have been Palestinian refugees who fled within the 1948 Nakba when 700,000 Palestinians left or have been expelled from what’s now Israeli territory. Those who left have been by no means allowed to return and have been compelled to settle in camps in neighboring nations, together with Azzam’s mother and father, who moved to Syria. Azzam was born there, and her household moved to Lebanon a short while later. When she was 10 years outdated, her household immigrated to the United States.

Azzam has written about her mother and father’ “experiences as displaced, dispossessed Palestinians, having misplaced their house, and what that was like for them,” Azzam mentioned. “Growing outdated whereas they’re holding that horrible expertise that was very figural of their lives.”

“My mother and father have been the refugees, and I’m the immigrant,” Azzam mentioned. “But the refugee narrative has been large in my life. I write a variety of poetry about being in between cultures and in between languages.”

Azzam’s first poetry e-book, “Bayna Bayna, In-Between,” was printed in 2021. “Bayna” is the Arabic phrase for “between,” and when it’s repeated twice, it means “betwixt and between.”

“It’s so shifting, so understated,” Azzam’s longtime pal Ida Audeh mentioned about Azzam’s poetry. “People learn it at an occasion, and so they’ll begin crying as a result of it’s simply so shifting. She’s a nice, delicate soul. She’s all the time considerate and issues register together with her. And then the output is simply phenomenal.”

In one poem, “Leaving My Childhood Home,” Azzam recollects shifting away from Beirut, gifting her finest pal an empty tin field stuffed with their childhood recollections, like enjoying conceal and search and consuming falafel sandwiches. She speaks on the sensation of bodily impermanence for refugees, evaluating her and her associates’ households to weeds needing to be pulled each few years.

Other poems contact on the lighter sides of Palestinian id, like meals.

“She has vary,” Audeh mentioned. “Some [poems] are simply so playful, one about spices and the way in which every spice makes an look in your palette. I get tickled after I learn it. You learn it and also you simply begin grinning.”

Last summer season, on the launch of Azzam’s newest poetry assortment, “Some Things Never Leave You,” her pal and former colleague Mimi Kirk provided remarks.

“I’ve been a pal and nice admirer of Zeina’s since we labored collectively on the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown 15 years in the past,” Kirk mentioned. “I usually say that I really feel honored to be shut with Zeina. It looks like such a present to be her pal, and her poetry can be such a present.”

Landing in Washington

After immigrating together with her mother and father to upstate New York when she was 10, Azzam attended center college and highschool in a small city referred to as Delmar. She attended school at Vassar in Poughkeepsie earlier than shifting to the Washington metro space.

“I felt like Washington provided me a chance to handle each my identities, as an Arab and as an American,” Azzam mentioned.

She had visited associates within the space just a few occasions a 12 months and determined to use for the Arab Studies grasp’s diploma at Georgetown University. “I believe that signifies how I wished to be taught extra about my heritage and my id and wished to be that one that understood two cultures and may help with understanding between the 2.”

Azzam ended up taking a job on the Arab Studies Center, which she mentioned gave her a chance to be taught rather more in regards to the Arab world, by her work and the massive Arab neighborhood in Washington. She preferred that there was a Palestinian neighborhood there and Arabs from everywhere in the Arab world.

“I plugged proper into it. I grew to become politically energetic early on — we’re speaking the ‘80s right here, standing exterior the White House in demonstrations in opposition to Israeli insurance policies,” mentioned Azzam, who protested the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Azzam labored with a company referred to as Palestine Aid Society, which marketed conventional Palestinian tatreez embroidery made by girls in Lebanon and the West Bank to an American viewers.

“That method, we have been capable of ship cash to those girls, a lot of whom had misplaced their husbands and had no different supply of revenue due to the warfare,” Azzam mentioned.

Now, she sees utilizing her poetry and Palestinian voice as a duty.

“I don’t characterize all Palestinians or our values, however I’m a voice and I really feel a duty to make my voice heard in locations that will not in any other case hear a Palestinian,” Azzam mentioned.

“I hate the phrase humanizes. I actually hate it,” Azzam mentioned, however she acknowledges that her poetry provides individuals a perspective on Palestinians apart from what they see on the information. “Here’s a Palestinian who’s making an attempt to inform the world about what’s occurring.”

She’s additionally been energetic in Grassroots Alexandria, a neighborhood motion group, since 2017, engaged on native points like inexpensive housing and holding police out of faculties.

The group is presently calling for the Alexandria City Council to move a decision supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

“In all these years in Alexandria, I knew only a few Arab Americans,” Azzam mentioned. “And then swiftly, this factor occurred with Gaza, and we now have 80 individuals working for Palestinian rights in Alexandria.”

In this troublesome time, Azzam feels embraced by her local people.

“We’re all working collectively hand in hand,” Azzam mentioned. “It’s actually so heartening to see that form of help.”

Mariah Jallad is a graduate journalism scholar on the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.