115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Safia Elhillo's Spoken and Written Word Poetics

Dashiell Moore, University of Sydney, Australia

​I examine the poetry of Sudanese-American Safia Elhillo as a young poet requiring more critical attention in the years to come. As an immigrant writer coming from Slam Poetry circles, African-American poetry groups, and as ​a woman embedded in the cultural metropolis of New York, Elhillo's refusal of identity politics is worth further discussion. 

Proposal: 

​I examine the poetry of Sudanese-American Safia Elhillo as a young poet requiring more critical attention in the years to come. As an immigrant writer coming from Slam Poetry circles, African-American poetry groups, and as ​a woman embedded in the cultural metropolis of New York, Elhillo's positionality, or identity overlaps politicized zones, regional localities, and cultural groups. Elhillo surpasses these identitarian methods of claiming 'character', through an emphasis on the 'human', or the material conditions at stake. As ... Shasha remarks on an article on Um Kuthum, the famous Egyptian singer and subject of Elhillo's poetry:

 

When we begin to see the fault-lines dividing people in terms of the human — how people actually live their daily lives — then we will better be able to unite those who hate one another. The unifying factor of culture, of music and its magical effect on us, is something that has been sorely missing from a vast majority of the discussions regarding the Middle East and its recurring dilemmas. Bringing the discussion back to the simplicity of the human is an important desideratum, regardless of the many forces that have sought to monopolize the discourse and contour the discussion to suit their parochial purposes.[7]

 

Her poetry is tenderly attuned to the space between these conflicting, aggregate loci; especially through a study of how language might function and be tested in its address of different audiences. As a figure very much in debt of the effect of poetry upon engaging and working through traumatic experience, much of her project is finding an appropriate language to navigate and manoeuvre through anti-hegemonic spaces with a metaphorical scale that does not obfuscate, or depreciate from each identity at stake. Much of this process is due to the bilinguaging Elhillo performs as a multilingual poet/wanderer. An example is Elhillo’s interest in issues of translation per her own Arabic, American, African languages, in her poem, Vocabulary. Engaging in these discursive positions as a Relation; fufilling Edouard Glissant's promise of a 'sparkle of many languages' helps us to fathom the positively constructed intricacies of inter-ethnic literary discourse.