broken identity: Uses of Repetition and the Lowercase in “First Writing Since”

Broken American Flag

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 left behind both physical and emotional destruction. Using forms of repetition, as well as the lowercase, Suheir Hammad is able to share a personal experience of the anxiety and confusion this destruction caused in her poem, “First Writing Since.”

Hammad uses repetition often and with purpose to emphasize certain points within her poem. This is particularly noticeable within the first few stanzas. One of the most eye catching examples is the fifth stanza, where Hammad writes “i do not know how bad a life has to break in order to kill. i have never been so hungry that i willed hunger, i have never been so angry as to want to control a gun over a pen,” (1). Here, Hammad uses repetitive phrases in order to emphasize her feelings of confusion on the recent tragedy. However, while repetition can often work to reinforce, this use makes it seem as though the speaker herself is trying to rationalize and understand what has occurred. In addition, while the use of the word “i” to start each line is eye catching in itself, what makes the repetition even more apparent is the choice to make the word I lowercase. By using “i” instead of “I”, Hammad makes the speaker both physically smaller as well as much weaker.

Identity Crisis Image

Hammad’s repetition creates a sense of assertiveness within her poem and yet her choice to use the lowercase contradicts this. This all works to create to the sense of confusion and anxiety seen throughout the poem. In terms of format, the lines are broken and the stanzas are formatted unconventionally. The choice to make identifying words lowercase simply adds to the lack of conventionality. In fact, the entire poem seems to express the speaker’s confusion over what has just happened, mixed with apprehension for what is to come and a loss or contradiction of identities through it all. As she says, “i have never felt less american and more new yorker” (4). B1.

Works Cited

Hammad, Suheir. “First Writing Since.” In Motion Magazine, 7 Nov. 2001.

One thought on “broken identity: Uses of Repetition and the Lowercase in “First Writing Since”

  1. You make a critical observation from the onset by bringing attention to Hammad’s usage of repetition and lowercase letters. I had also quickly noticed how Hammad uses these techniques to emphasize her emotions in the aftermath of 9/11. As I was reading the poem, I thought that Hammad had purposely chosen to strictly use lowercase letters to symbolize how much was broken during the terrorist attack. Not only had the Twin Towers collapsed but many people were also deeply traumatized by the event, thus leaving them broken. By not having any capital letters in a poem about 9/11, Hammad is able to visually portray the sense of defeat, confusion, and pain that people feel and emphasize the lack of the two towers that once stood tall and proud.
    The techniques that you discuss in your blog post remind me of the way in which Hammad uses allusion to convey her feelings about the September 11 attacks. Both the literary techniques you mentioned, and allusion, provide the reader with a direct look into Hammad’s perspectives: using lowercase letters and repetion symbolizes her confusion while the allusion to the Oklahoma City bombing represents her anger. By using these literary devices, Hammad makes the reader wonder how else one might express themselves, especially after such a tragic event. When close reading “First Writing Since”, the reader will notice the various methods used to paint a vivid diagram of Hammad’s inner emotions and thoughts after 9/11.

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