Writing, Arts & Entertainment

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.”

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


[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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Billy Collins

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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