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.

It's inspired me to return to poetry after too many vacant years, and has given me some practical advice about ways to incorporate humor. Thanks, Billy Collins!

I am going to go through each lesson taking notes of ways I need to try and improve my poems. I may need to go through the lessons yet again as I absorb all the tiny bits and pieces Billy gave us in these classes.

This was such a great class. Learned a lot about writing in general, not only poetry.

I binge watched all 20 lessons in 2 days. Mr. Collins is engaging, wise, and helpful. I will now go back and do the exercises, with gratitude


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!

Sherry H.

Also, in the last two lines, I think the mother knows exactly what her husband is doing but the mother chooses to keep her peace. Some wives feel intimidated by their husbands and won't interfere in discipline of children; the man must always be treated with respect in that his behavior is not to be questioned. He is the head of the household, not the wife (that is the attitude of these women). This was true in my own childhood home. My mother knew her place, so to speak. I think this kind of woman feels it is paramount for the sake of the family and the home to be meek and subservient.

Sherry H.

I think something additional is happening in this poem - the way certain traumatic things seem to have happened in slow motion, even an event that only took a few seconds in actual time. While we know the actual time of it, when we recall it, it all seems much longer.

Kasy L.

This was an incredible lesson. Sarah Iqbal's poem was beautiful and I loved her responses to Billy's questions.

Kaerla F.

We are intruding in space - and upholstering it, with the thoughts and ideas we want our readers to see.

Tauna S.

I do not know how anyone reading the title of the poem wouldn't know it was a bible, just by labeling the father (Muslim). It was the only thing that came to mind. (barring the mind in the gutter thought). To me it was a way a father might punish a daughter for following the mother's beliefs in a two faith family. A way to punish the mother, he would never, could never hit because that would give her and her faith the upper hand over him. I found the spacing and pacing annoying. What I did find helpful was the teacher to student interplay.

A fellow student

I really liked this conversation because it's clear that the student writer put a great deal of thought into her work. Collins' questioning takes us through her writing process in a meaningful way.

R. Greg S.

I'm pleased to sit in on this discussion with a student. It gives me a greater sense of participating in a class, opposed to merely watching a series of videos.

Townsend S.

I was glad to hear this poem read aloud, because I had wondered about it when I read it in the workbook. I am dubious about its form but the poem is powerful.

John S.

I have always struggled with reading poems (like Sarah's) that use spacing in such unconventional ways. Listening to her read her work aloud has begun convincing me that I should attempt to do so. My challenge going forward, I think, is to choose when and how to do so, depending upon my poem's meaning and rhythm. Wish me luck.