A Poet’s Take on Language, the Sea and Abortion — with Zeina Hashem Beck

A Poet’s Take on Language, the Sea and Abortion — with Zeina Hashem Beck
Waves crashing along the Beirut seashore amid stormy weather / Joseph Eid / AFP via Getty Images
my parents threw me in the sea / when I was two & I floated / they called me little fish / my parents trusted the sea

Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck has been publishing poetry in Arabic and English for over a decade. Her latest collection of bilingual poems, titled “O,” was published at the beginning of July. In this episode she joins New Lines’ Rasha Elass to share her thoughts on what inspires her verses and how they intertwine over themes of language, country and womanhood. 

“The idea of the duet is that it’s a fully bilingual poem,” explains Hashem Beck. In her previous work, she would sprinkle Arabic phrases among English verses, but in “O” the poems are split into two halves that sit opposite each other on the page. “The Arabic has as much space [as], if not more than, the English … . There’s a convo between these two languages that’s kind of always in my head, and these duets kind of reflect that.”

“O” is her third full-length collection to be published, but she has been writing poetry since she was a young child, scribbling verses, words and song lyrics in a notebook her father gave her. 

I think I probably discovered poetry before I even knew the term,” she says. “I think I was just attracted to language and to little moments in which language can be very poetic.”

Now a mother with children of her own, Hashem Beck notes that the poems in “O” reflect her life experiences. One, titled “Ode to Lipstick,” was written in the aftermath of her abortion. Another, “Blue,” is dedicated to the sea — and in particular, the Mediterranean. Hashem Beck has moved from Beirut to Dubai and then again to California. That dislocation continues to hurt. “The city was taken out of my chest,” she says. The sea, she explains, reminds her of home. “I can’t live in a city or a place if it’s not by the water.”

Produced by Joshua Martin

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