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Meet Our July Poet in the Spotlight: Jess Rizkallah 


Highlighted by Porter Square Books

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American writer and illustrator. She is a New York University MFA graduate, a Kundiman fellow, and editor-in-chief at pizza pi press. Her full-length collection THE MAGIC MY BODY BECOMES was a finalist for The Believer Poetry Award and won the 2017 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize as awarded by the Radius of Arab-American Writers and University of Arkansas Press. Find her at jessrizkallah.com.
 
Poetic Profession   
 
I write poetry, prose, and make visual art. I'm interested in the interaction across mediums and the texture that adds to storytelling, to memory and dream recall, and even to all the research or observation into a subject that comes before I sit down to make something. I've been focusing a lot more on journaling these days and going about it like I'm working on an archive, which I guess I am. As I found my way here, I was inspired a lot by the work and philosophy of Marwa Helal, especially her poem "an alibi, an archive." There is a responsibility I aim for in my practice and I hope I'm getting close to it. Thinking about my work as an archive has been a really satisfying way for me to break time's hold on my process and even my way of thinking. I'm just following the intuitive, the sensory, the ancestral, the impulsive, and yes even the linear history because I can't escape time completely. This all feels active and electric and fun and I rarely feel blocked anymore. There's too much to do, lots of questions to ask. No one in my family has written anything down, or records have been lost. And they've been through so much. And now I'm going through my own muchness. So I'm writing everything down. Maybe if I do, my descendants will have everything they need to move beyond salvaging and uncovering. Maybe they can world build instead of combing through wreckage or artifacts. A futurism they can write but also activate? I don't know. I hope we save the earth so that can happen. 
"in another dimension i am a good daughter"
 
i wake up early / i sweep the floor / i put coffee on the nar

my arabic is serpentine / through dirt / ready to strike / yet i slice
apples in silence / as the men speak of revolution / i offer fruit /
on the tip of a knife / i pull from my skirt when no one is looking.

when i am named beautiful i don’t ugly my shape / out of spite /

i sing songs about what i want / only when i’m alone / i say ouch
as soon as the sting swells / and don’t save the venom in my cheek for later /
i accept the limitations of my body / but still refuse

help / to suffer in silence is saintly / so i won’t
have to admit i’d never offer my eyes to god.

when someone says with admiration it’s as if you are
a sister among brothers / i don’t scoff / in this dimension
i am still better than / all the sons / you could have had

-Originally published in Paper Darts
Porter Square Books is a fiercely independent bookstore serving the greater Cambridge community by nurturing a rich reading life and fostering a conversation between the world of books, authors, and our community through events, recommendations, and an interesting and engaging selection of books for all ages.
Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners.

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