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Student Discussion: "My (Muslim) Father Seizes the Thing on My Nightstand" by Sarah Iqbal

Billy Collins

Lesson time 11:12 min

Learn how spacing and word repetition create tone in student Sarah Iqbal’s poem “My (Muslim) Father Seizes the Thing on My Nightstand.”

Billy Collins
Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - I want to welcome Sara Iqbal to my MasterClass. She is a Sarah Lawrence student, and I want to thank her for coming down here and subjecting herself to this. But we're going to take a poem of hers, she's going to read it and then she and I will say something about it. Would you mind reading it for us? - Thank you. - Thanks. - "My Muslim Father Seizes the Thing on My Nightstand. Before he hit me, he looked for something with which to hit me. And I didn't know until after what it was. Before he hit me, I wasn't looking. I imagined him looking for something to hit me with. I maybe expected heavy. I'm saying I didn't imagine Bible. I'm saying I didn't imagine Jesus to be so heavily bruising. I'm saying I never imagined for Him to be used like that. And my mother, lighting candles, didn't hear, likw a brick you build houses with." - Very good. Thank you for reading that. It's a very powerful poem, and I wonder-- one of the things I wanted to ask you was, in writing the poem out, again, in longhand, which we asked you to do, did you have any more kind of insights into the poem or did it-- did you see it in a new way? Or was it just familiar as the original? - Well, I always write my poems out by hand first. - Me, too. - And I will rewrite them every time by hand. - Me, too. - So generally, by the time I have finished, more or less, poem, I will have written it like 10 or 20 times. So my notebooks are kind of repetitive in that way. - Right. - But with a poem like this, actually putting it down on page after seeing it in a Word document kind of makes it a little bit more complicated to read because of the spacing. So it's easier to see in a word processor that you have certain spaces, how many you have and you can see the differences-- - Right. - In each line. So on page, it can get a little muddled up with handwriting. - Right. And it's very important, I think, in poetry to realize that we are putting something in a space. You know, for writing a story, we just fill-- it just fills every page, a 20 page short story or whatever. But we're actually taking a blank space and intruding on it or laying something on it and always leaving-- by necessity, leaving space around it. But your poem is very original in that it uses space in a very-- for a very specific purpose, I think. And the words are quite separate, and I'm very glad that in your reading, you reflected that by pausing rather than just kind of reading through the whole poem. In the early drafts, did you have this idea of spacing from the beginning? - I did, actually. I got this idea from reading Shane MacRae's book, Mule, and he is a poet who really makes use of spacing in this way. I decided to take that idea and make it a little more physical, to make the space feel like you're living in it. - Right, right. Is that what the space is supposed to create? For me, it created quite a bit of tension because there...

Let imagination lead the way

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Imagine a class to teach something as intimate as writing poetry! I appreciate being told and shown the techniques by successful poets, particularly the "turn". I also appreciate the ability to go back to specific lessons and try again to learn!

I thoroughly enjoyed Billie's style of teachding. I went through the class quickly to get an overview and now I'm going back over it with the workbook and doing the assignments. Thank you fr this class and Billy for being Billy.

As I was taking classes and realized that I had sort of naturally already applied some of the lessons or suggestions to my writing or my approach, it made me feel like I was on the right track. I felt that my instincts were good when Mr. Collins would affirm something I was doing or when he felt like I did about a particular thing. It also gave me new inspiration and ideas, and courage. Thank you!

Billy did a wonderful job provoking me to read more, to consider different ways how to write, and showing me different directions I could take.


Paul D.

I never understood the reasoning behind why poems like this were be so broken up and jumpy, but this has given me such an appreciation for the form! Really make a huge impact on the poem


Amazing poem. I hope that she pursues writing -- she has a talent for it. The way that she used spacing to evoke emotion was a powerful choice. I would love to read more of her work.

Jacinta L.

Anything can be used for good or evil (at the same time). A theme that's much deeper than what's on the surface is presented here. I love the way she explained and articulated her poem. A wonderful lesson.

Nathaly L.

wow, I was so touched by her poem, bravo to her! she looks like someone I would enjoy to read some more so I will!


Not only is the tension present on the page, it is even more vivid in the reading. Well written poem!

Marjorie B.

'he who is pure, cast the first stones.' these words hit me in the most brutal way and hurt more than any solid object could do......

Bevin M.

"Brave and carefully constructed" is so apt. I look forward to reading more of Iqbal's poems.

A fellow student

This was a powerful poem, read perfectly. The rhythm not only creates tension but also gives a sense of the beating that is occurring even as the poet speaks and the mother carries on in the next room. Bringing in the mother at the end establishes the family triangle and opens up questions that keep us wondering what will happen next. Congratulations, Sarah!

Allan A.

I found this student's poem to be one of the most provocative in the MasterClass. Would a Christian Fundamentalist father punish his child or strike out in anger with a copy of the Quran? Can a poem ever be a weapon?

Tarcísio B.

This is one of the best texts I ever read in my life. The spaces. The pauses. The dramatic emotion within. The story. Congrats, Sarah! And thank you Bill for bringing her! Trully a Masterclass!