January 22–28, 2018
Rand Faris is a poet and aspiring actress from Jordan/Palestine. She moved to Brooklyn upon completing her studies in drama and psychology in London two years ago. Among her other artistic pursuits, Faris enjoys filmmaking and is getting interested in music. She won runner-up honors for the 2017 Yawp Poem of the Year award from Brooklyn Poets for the poem below.
Where I’m From
English is not my mother tongue,
I’ve got the thick brows and the deep brown eyes
But my American accent plays as a disguise, and
Overshadows my newly grown roots that have yet to turn grey.
Where are you from?
I am from Jordan.
Ah, from Georgia.
No, I say politely,
This time my answer is exerted with a pinch of anger.
Silence dances on awkward breaths and uncomfortable stares.
In the moment the conquer is mine, later I think I’m petty for even going
English is not my mother tongue, however
I was born on Western grounds and I learnt first from the people that I
I went from seeing greenery at every corner to bathing in water that I
had to turn off in between shampooing & conditioning because my
mother always reminded me that “our country is poorer.”
English is not my mother tongue, yet I used it out of choice in dialect
even with my own family.
Desperately holding on to everything I was born into,
Because the Western world was glorified and our world horrified.
A 6-year-old that did not know cannot be blamed,
But now at 24 I blame myself if I do not know enough.
Arabic is my mother tongue.
Black Arab blood escapes from my heart to my veins with yet another
death carrying no name.
Red Arab anger makes its way from my heart to my eyes, flowing in
streams of helpless cries.
And my Arab pride is strengthened every time we lose and once again
get up and try.
Arabic is my mother tongue.
Jordanian slash Palestinian is where I am from.
Underneath my crop top and Nike shoes,
I wear an invisible veil and carry in my bag my biased views.
Do not be quick to judge when you see me with my piercings.
The way I dress, talk and think are conscious adaptations that are ever-
A reflection of two cultures interchanging.
Arabic is my mother tongue.
Notice how my Rs are strained when I introduce my name.
Notice. How my eyes don’t hide the fear nor the pain.
Notice. How I am quick to defend, quick to forget, and quick to move
Notice. How I fuel on hope to remain strong.
إنني عربيةٌ كح.
إسمعوا كلماتي، التي تعبر عن أقصى الظروف بحنان وعطف.
إمشوا معاي، فلن تندموا،
لأن مسيرتي طويلة وليست مملة،
مليئة بقصص من كلا الطرفين،
لأنني عربيةٌ بلهجة اجنبيةٌ.
Arabic is my mother tongue, I’ll say it just once more.
Away from my country, away from my family, but my roots still glow
I now notice the beauty of the Arabic language.
I now notice its ability to create a world of pure tranquility.
I notice I am blessed, I notice I was young, I notice that now,
I want to show off where I’ve come from.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I actually wrote this poem a while back, and it’s funny to have it become more relevant right now due to what’s happening with Palestine “losing its identity.”
I wrote this because I felt as though part of my own identity—that is, where I’m from—was getting lost between finding myself and finding my purpose in general whilst being away from home.
I left Jordan when I was eighteen to go to university in London, and after my years ended there, I moved to New York. I knew what I wanted, I just needed to figure out how to get it. And let me just say, I am still figuring it out after two years of being here.
But the point is that since leaving my home country and being so consumed with my experiences outside of it, there was naturally a sense of distance from what I identified as home. My country, my family, my childhood and what was going on politically—it wasn’t that I was trying to break free from these things, not at all, and it wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I was just far away, and life was moving fast for me. New discoveries and experiences were shaping me and changing me.
It’s especially when I moved to New York that I comprehended the distance fully and felt it immensely. I spent the loneliest year of my life upon arrival, a time that began to shape me and change me all over again, and that’s when being distant made me realize I wanted to be more aware and more present—if not physically, then emotionally and mentally—with my roots and my upbringing.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment, writing-wise, I am trying to explore my style and try new ways of writing. I am reading more poetry and expanding my style that way. I write just about every day, even if it’s just a paragraph, or if I’m lucky a whole piece. It’s not always good, it’s not always finished, and I definitely go back and revisit my unfinished work, either adding onto or shaving off from it. My notes application on my phone is my writing companion. Without it, I’d be lost. Many in-the-moment ideas and inspiration would be lost too.
Other than writing, now with this new year starting I want to fully dive into all the plans I’ve made that have to do with my acting career and how to push further.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is a productive day. I am a person who needs to be productive in order to be fulfilled. It can be productive in any way, though, whether at work or whether I’ve crossed something off my to-do list.
An ideal day would be having a day where I’ve been productive then I have time to chill at the end of it and do something that makes me happy.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Rent prices (lol, I’m joking). I moved to New York a couple years ago—I’ll hit my two-year mark at the end of this month. I knew I wanted to live in Brooklyn when I first moved to New York just from what I’d heard about it and read. What brought me to New York as a whole was acting.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’ve been living in Brooklyn since I moved here, so almost two years now. My first apartment was in Bed-Stuy and my second one, which I moved into in September, is literally a ten-minute walk away from my first one. That’s how much I love my neighborhood, that I didn’t move far away. Which is also unlike me because I enjoy trying out different places and spaces. My neighborhood now is considered Bushwick, because I now live off Bushwick Ave and not Broadway anymore.
Bed-Stuy / this part of Bushwick has a very homey feel. Everyone is super nice. When you walk out of your house they say “Good morning” if you’re a familiar face, and you’re automatically friends with the local businesses. I love it. I don’t feel like I live far away from the city either, I feel like it’s all one big place and my twenty-minute commute is nothing. But on that note, since I stopped working in the city I’ve been spending a lot more time in Brooklyn, and mostly going out here as well.
It’s changing because more and more local cafés, bars, restaurants and stores are opening up. I can’t compare it to other places I’ve lived in New York since it’s the only one, but compared to other places I’ve lived in the world such as London and my hometown in Jordan, I’d say Brooklyn is a mix of Jordan where it feels like a close-knit community and homey, and then it’s similar to London where each neighborhood has its gems and its own feel.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to ever have this defining experience, so for all of us out there who have had this moment, this one goes out to you.
During summer, my friend would go to the piers in Brooklyn a lot and just hang out there, overlooking the city right by the water. I would sometimes go meet her and her boyfriend there. I remember the first time I went to meet them, not knowing how beautiful anything looked from that angle. I sat there, and just looked out, the weather so perfect with a pretty perfect image of New York City right in front of me.
I had a personal moment of gratitude for New York and for the first time in a while, it felt like being in New York was exactly where I needed to be at this moment in my life. I felt like I made the right choice. Or not even the right choice but a good choice. As cheesy as that sounds. It was just so beautiful I couldn’t help but think of the most positive reason to be there.
I’ve had a few moments of appreciation like that one since living in New York, but that is my Brooklyn one. I know I’m probably late to the game with the piers in Brooklyn, but if someone else reading this is new to New York and has never been, please go, especially on a summer night.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community, to me, means a platform to unapologetically share work and raw emotion and in return gain inspiration and further appreciation for poetry in general, but also the people who open themselves up to you allowing you to feel their emotions.
I am always searching for new poetry to read, and I am always searching for poetry nights around New York to go feed my appetite. A poetry community is an extension of this passion of mine and it’s a safe place for expression. I have luckily found Brooklyn Poets through my excessive searching of poetry around New York. And even though I’ve only been present for two nights so far, I felt what I came to feel.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I had no poetry mentors in specific. My love for poetry started as a teen. I used to write overly romantic, overly dramatic love poems about guys I used to think I was in love with, of course from a distance before I knew what being in love even meant. They were more like confession poems that these boys would never read, or anyone in that case.
I remember I stopped writing for a while after that phase, and then began again toward the end of high school. My first comeback poem was dedicated to my grandmother who lived abroad in America and was beginning to lose her memory. She was the purest and kindest soul I knew and being far from her and not present in her life at such a time drove me to write about her. After that poem, I found myself writing again.
My mother then showed me her stored archives of her own poetry. My father writes beautifully as well, not poetry in particular, but in general. Having their support and reading their words of expression and acknowledging their styles excited me to keep going.
I started watching a lot of spoken word poetry performances on YouTube. Button Poetry was one of my favorite pages, and I used to find myself spending all my Internet time (the free time I’d give myself in the day for being on the Internet) going from poet to poet.
After discovering the world of spoken word and realizing that being a poet didn’t mean you had to rhyme, my writing began to go through some changes and transformations. I was trying new ways of expression. It was only when I went to university in London and joined an open mic night committee started by one of my friends that I felt more confident to keep writing and eventually get up and perform. The reason I felt confident was being so present in that community and watching people perform, many of them being first-timers, and then experiencing a room full of people including myself, being touched by their energy.
Therefore I’d say my mentor wasn’t anyone in specific, but rather the experiences I’ve had and the people around me as a whole. When you surround yourself with a certain type of energy, and people who are open and expressive, you can’t help but feed off it. Especially if that hunger is within you.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’ve been reading Love Is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski and it’s been an absolute pleasure.
The name Charles Bukowski wasn’t new to me before reading this book, but his work was. I had never read anything by him. My friend at work gave me this book to borrow knowing I write, and ever since I have not been able to put it down.
The reason his work is captivating to me is because it is so simple and raw. As I mentioned earlier, in my early days writing poetry I always felt the need to rhyme. I felt as though my work wasn’t good if my poems didn’t rhyme. I would Google rhyming words and synonyms all the time while writing a poem. It didn’t make my writing less genuine, because I was finding new words to express the same message I intended on expressing, however it did break the fluidity of my writing at times.
Charles Bukowski, on the other hand, just writes. He just expresses. Unapologetically, and in no particular format. It’s very conversational, and then he’ll hit you with that one line, or that particular image that strokes your senses. Or at least mine.
Another poet I recently discovered, before Charles, was Rupi Kaur. And just like Bukowski, Rupi just writes and expresses herself in the simplest ways. Sometimes she even writes a one-liner.
Experiencing these two writers made me write more. I began writing every day, even if it was one line, or three paragraphs. I was simply expressing. It felt more like a diary entry, and there was nothing wrong with that, because I finally found fluidity, with no hiccups or barriers. I began writing my truest emotions and thoughts, and through being unapologetic, I’d find a way to to make it more than just a diary entry. I’d find that twist, or that hitter.
Of course, more often than not I face days where I write something that I never put out, or something that makes no sense to anyone but myself, or something that is not worthy of a read.
But at least I express myself more often than ever before, realizing that you don’t have to rhyme in order to be a poet, and there are no rules in expression.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I don’t have a particular reading process. I try to read one book at a time if I’m reading a book, but that’ll only be the case if the book is too good to stop.
I can’t say I’ve finished every book I’ve ever picked up. If the book loses me, I find it very hard to go back to it or continue in the first place. I get distracted very easily and my mind is constantly on, so to be able to stick to one book means it has found a way to grab my concentration every time I pick it up.
I read a lot of work digitally, too. I enjoy a tangible book more, however there’s a lot of good work online these days. I follow a lot of writing pages on Instagram, and enjoy them scrolling down my feed.
I’d say I definitely discover my next read at random, but if I’ve heard of a good book or been given recommendations, I’ll write them down and keep a lookout. I like having random books given to me by my friends or family rather than planning a read.
I take notes, or rewrite certain sentences or quotes that stick out to me!
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’d like to try to use more imagery in my writing. Imagery intertwined in this simple conversational tactic that I’m now exploring. I enjoy a beautiful image in poetry and I am personally amazed when a poet can paint a picture so vividly within their poem. Since my dictionary is one of my personal barriers in writing, as I feel I don’t know too many descriptive words, I’d like to expand that first, and then use those words in my imagery.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Definitely a café. Any café. I love café atmospheres. The comfort of a very sweet and milky cup of coffee, the people walking by outside living different lives at the same time in the same place, and the people around you inside, present under the same roof for different reasons.
When I first moved to New York, that’s all I did. I’d go from café to café, and just apply to jobs and write.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. I enjoy spaces a lot and I am a very easily pleased person. So on that note, instead of choosing a space I like, I can safely say I haven’t been in any Brooklyn space that I didn’t like yet, haha.
But on that note as well, there’s a very cool café/flower shop called Erzulie that I like, both during the day and at night. And I like House of Yes as a space and interior-wise. These are just a couple off the top of my head.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate mutuality,
And what I learn about you, when I am not asking any questions,
For every time you expose yourself to me, I feel as good as the first
time you told me I was beautiful, because I thought you were
the most beautiful man I had ever seen when I first met you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
I came to Brooklyn,
I wasn’t looking for love,
I wasn’t looking for sin,
I was just trying to find myself within, but ended up finding a dried-up
To my right posted up on the wall I found Biggie,
To my left in the taco shop I met a man named Jack.
My neighbor was Rob,
He was a tax dodger,
And a stay-at-home father.