No Words and No Poetry in a Poem Made of Words

I do not remember 9/11. I was two years old when it happened, and I have no memory of the event itself. For me, 9/11 was not an outstanding moment in time, but an event that indirectly shaped my life through the culture of my country.

Hammad reading First Writing Since

In her poem “First Writing Since,” Suheir Hammad creates a series of contradictions between an expectation and reality, drawing from the real world political and social ironies after the 9/11 attacks. Opening the poem by immediately introducing irony to the text, she arises a contrast between the stated narrative and the situation actuality. Hammad’s poem begins “1. there have been no words. / i have not written one word / no poetry in the ashes south of canal street. / no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving debris and dna. / not one word” (Hammad 1). Hammad’s first statement denies the existence of words, but by the sheer nature of the medium, her poem consists entirely of words. In addition to the denial of a presence of words, Hammad also denies the presence of poetry and prose. By indicating the absence of these forms of writing, she surfaces a contrast between the lack of meaningful writing and the presence of her work, a piece of reflection. This dissonance that comes from denying an easily observable fact creates an irony, and therefore establishes a disconnect between presented statements and the truth of the matter.

The effect of acknowledging a contrast between words and reality surfaces throughout the poem. Hammad references a vilification of the Middle East from the public and political authorities, citing the assumptions people make about her due to her race and family. To disrupt those assumptions, however, she constantly questions their validity and consequences, referencing the victims of bombing strikes and the presence of prejudice in America (Hammad 2-3). Hammad’s suggestion of the disconnect between a stated narrative and the realities behind it.

Near the end of the poem, Hammad writes “there is no poetry in this. there are causes and effects. there are / symbols and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, and information we will / never know” (Hammad 4). Again denying the poetry in the subject she has quite literally written a poem about, Hammad brings up a reminder of the implicit contrast between words and the truth behind them, noting the symbols, ideologies, conspiracy, and information that shape these contradictions.

9/11 Memorial Wall. "No day shall erase you from the memory of time -Virgil"

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

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.

Suffering is Uncomfortable. Word.

 

While suffering is a universal human experience, it is somehow difficult to verbally sympathize with others, especially strangers. Expressing sorrow is often uncomfortable and embarrassing. “First Writing Since” by Suheir Hammad utilizes the poetic device of colloquialism to articulate the human tendency to minimize and belittle pain when dealing with these experiences.

In stanza sixteen, Hammad uses colloquialisms and casual language that juxtapose the tone of the rest of the poem, adding a comedic effect. The narrator details an interaction with a “big white woman” who is compassionate and accepting toward her, an Arab American navigating a post-9/11 world. It initially feels like a moment of genuine connection that the narrator is searching for. The woman is able to offer the narrator physical comfort; she gives an embrace “the kind only people with the warmth of flesh can offer,” (Hammad 2). Immediately after, however, when the narrator laments that she is an Arab in America with brothers in the navy, the exchange quickly turns darkly humorous. All the white woman can manage to say is “wow, you got double trouble.” Using the casual slang term “double trouble” is extremely minimizing, but also creates a feeling of awkwardness between them. The narrator’s unexpected reply of the colloquialism “word” feels distinctive from  her voice in the rest of the poem.

The use of colloquialisms to create an unsettling effect on the tone of the poem reveals the struggle to casually communicate about trauma, suffering, and loss in everyday situations effectively with strangers. While the women seems to be sympathetic, and is able to offer the narrator physical comfort, she cannot comfortably verbally express her compassion. This also reflects their different identities, and how the narrator is grappling with being both Arab and American. This white woman is presumably not dealing with these struggles, making her only able to relate on a surface level. The narrator is forced to adhere to a different manner of speaking to relate to this woman by saying “word,” and to soften her outburst of emotion. 

The way these colloquialisms create a feeling of struggling to articulate is ironic in an eloquent poem about 9/11. However, this exchange reflects how these unhinged emotions are expressed outside of art. While Hammad says that there is “no poetry in this. there are causes and effects,” this exchange reminds readers how difficult it is to express these negative thoughts outside of this medium, (Hammad 4). B1.

Works Cited

Hammad, Suheir. “First Time Since.” In Motion Magazine. 7 November 2001.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You: The Use of Anaphora in Suheir Hammad’s “First Writing Since”

“Thank You” in several languages.

       When was the last time you said thank you for something you usually take for granted? As a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Suheir Hammad gives “plenty of thank yous” in her poem, “First Writing Since” (33). Using anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, Hammad appeals to her reader’s emotions by stating that even in the hardest of times, it is important to be thankful for occurrences that may otherwise be overlooked.

       Through the repetition of “thank you” in the eighth stanza, Hammad encourages her reader to appreciate occurrences in life that may seem mundane or infuriating in the moment, but may actually end up saving one’s life. The use of anaphora emphasizes that there are a number of moments to be thankful for, even in a time as grim as September 11th. For example, Hammad states, “thank you for my lazy procrastinating late ass” (34). Typically traits such as “procrastinating” and being “lazy” and “late” are associated with negative connotations. However, had Hammad’s faults not been factors, she would have been on her “daily train ride into the world trade center” (31-32). Additionally, Hammad appeals to the reader’s emotions by saying, “thank you… rude nyer who stole my cab” (36-37). It is easy to think of an instance in which you have been late and it feels as if the world simply does not want you to make it on time. In any other instance, this is an irritating feeling. Yet, by starting her sentence with “thank you,” Hammad asks her reader to take a step back and recognize the implications of what would have happened had she successfully gotten a “cab going downtown” (37). She concludes this stanza with, “thank you for my legs, my eyes, my life” (38). This final, rather general, statement especially makes her reader recognize aspects taken for granted. Most days, many do not think about their legs, or the impact they have on daily occurrences. This use of anaphora is significant because September 11th made New Yorkers, Arabs, and everyone in-between realize the consequences and impact one day can make on the rest of their lives.

Rapunzel, the princess from Disney’s film Tangled, taking a deep breath.

       Admitting you are wrong and acknowledging the necessity of negative attributes as a key concept to success, and in this case survival, is a hard idea to come to terms with. Using anaphora, not only does Hammad acknowledge her faults, she actually says “thank you” and admits their importance. Recognizing situations that may seem undesirable and putting them in the context of appreciation allows Hammad’s reader to recognize that often small situations can have the biggest impact. It is important to take a deep breath when times get hard, as oftentimes there is a lot worse that could have happened. B1.

 

Works Cited

“Anaphora.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.meriam-webster.com/dictionary/anaphora.

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

 

Blog Prompt #1: Suheir Hammad’s “First Writing Since”

Blog Post #1 Due: Wed 9/12, 8:30am // Comment #1 Due: Wed 9/12, 11:59pm

Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad

Provide a detailed close reading of one specific literary device from Suheir Hammad’s poem, “First Writing Since,” that you find especially compelling. Given that this is a long poem, select a specific and focused literary device from a particular stanza. Use the steps detailed below to develop a fluid and cohesive argument about the significance of this literary device within the selected section of the text.

Introduce (name/describe) the literary device you plan to analyze and frame a cohesive quote illustrating the selected literary device. Remember to provide enough context to situate your reader within the relevant section of the text.

Describe what specific effects this device produces – remember, you will need to re-quote / reference specific portions of the text in this portion of your close reading.

Explain how the device produce these effects – again, re-quote / reference the text as needed to illustrate your claims.

Explain why these effects are significant to your understanding of the poem.