Marilyn Hacker & Deema K Shehabi

Poetry putting conflict in perspective - A poetic conversation

Sample Passages

  • And this is how it begins


    Five, six – and righteous,
    the child in green in Gaza
    stands in her wrecked home,

    grubby, indignant. Her hands
    point; she explains what was done

    bombed, burned. It all smells
    like gas! We had to throw our clothes
    away! The earrings my

    father gave me… No martyr,
    resistant. The burnt cradle…


    breaks over the cold mountains
    of North Carolina where a Cherokee
    poet huddles in a cottage

    by an indigo fire. She sees
    the child and says,

    This is the new Trail of Tears.
    Calls out, Oh outspread Indian nation
    Let’s braid our hair

    with the pulverized
    gravel of Palestine.

    Witness, she says, the unpinned
    knuckles of this child. Feel
    the burlap curtains whip across…


    the third floor window
    in Belleville, dyed blue-purple
    like the hyacinth

    on the windowsill. Nedjma
    does math homework. Strike today;

    but school tomorrow.
    Coming back from the demo
    they sang in the street –

    Rêve Générale! – the slogan
    makes her smile. Wan winter sun…


    is grafted on the broken sink
    that Maher uses for percussion.
    He sings Frank Sinatra

    in a deep cigarette voice
    as the bombs catapult down

    “It’s now or never.”
    He pauses, and his niece releases
    her breath over the scratchy

    phone line between Gaza
    and California. Where are the hills


    …he saw from New York…
    “Marhabâ yâ Nafîsa,
    Girl, you watch your back!

    Tanks and uniforms zap guys’
    minds worse than testosterone

    but you were gorgeous
    reasoning as you dodged to
    keep them from aiming

    at the brothers behind you
    dancing along the barbed wire.”

    M — Marilyn Hacker
    D — Deema Shehabi


This collaboration began when Marilyn Hacker, in Paris, sent Deema Shehabi, in California, an unexpected email containing a renga about a steadfast yet emotionally wounded child lamenting her fate during the invasion of Gaza in January 2009.

It quickly turned into a long project, involving an alternate call and response between them in the tradition of the Japanese renga form, each poet picking up a word, phrase, or image from the poem preceding, which took place between 2009 and 2013.

The result was a sequence of renga, a fascinating poetic conversation called Diaspo/Renga. The two poetic voices are beautifully meshed together, so that it actually reads as one long poem.

The poetry is very rich in imagery, and these images stay with you, as do feelings the poems generate, for example of unrest, of being in exile. Television shows you the pictures in the streets, this poetry takes you into the homes and minds of people. You can read it very much between the lines, and therefore it seems to speak to people about their own experiences.

Diaspo/Renga is a dignified celebration of humanity in and among atrocities. Although triggered by events in Gaza, it cleverly weaves in other conflicts past and present.

Sections of Diaspo/Renga have been published in the Kenyon Review, New Letters, Pen America, Poetry Review and Wasafiri. But now you can read the full sequence.

‘It’s quite unlike anything else I’ve come across. I was immediately gripped,’ says the publisher Bernadette Jansen op de Haar.

Marilyn and Deema can say it so much better so here are a few snippets to get you hooked.

It’s about people


Her father will die
without seeing her again;
He’s ninety-four now.


Thinking of the old man she loves
how trampled by sickness he’s become
how he stubbornly smells like talc

Linking the past with the present


Gaza, and Warsaw
where her father was martyred,
though that’s not her word —


Candles don’t disappear
from the soft hands of three sisters
from Damascus standing in vigil

by a large breezy fountain
in Walnut Creek.

Following on


Now, a bus to the border
where they will meet the others.


They will meet with the others,
and everything will change.
He will become obsessed

Reflection on modern media


‘The revolution
will be televised!’ Ashraf
tweets from Tahrîr Square.


In one long breath, she recounts
the history, as news of torture
foams over cyber waves.

The poets reflect


Is she like Li Po
with her third, last glass of wine,
the midnight window,

the high nailclipping moon and
the plants that got through winter?


Is she so preoccupied with
what’s ahead that she forgets
the hum of cicadas outside

the midnight window, the muffled sound
of the Bart train speeding by?

Intrigued? Buy your copy of Diaspo/Renga from this page.

£8.99 – $16.00
You can buy Diaspo/Renga now by clicking on the ‘Buy this book’ button on this page. Your card will be debited in your local currency.

Enjoy listening to Deema reading from Diaspo/Renga on YouTube.

If you’re interested in a review copy, more information or publicity material, please contact the publisher.

ISBN: 9781907320422
Number of pages: 117
Price: £0


‘The script leaps across /the page to smack /your lips’: the sprung rhythms of Diasporenga startle and enchant the ear, as its stories of emigration and exile have the mind leaping between continents. This book’s revolutionary form is most revolutionary of all in making serious political engagement and sophisticated poetic pleasure inseparable. — Fiona Sampson, Professor of Poetry, University of Roehampton

Peace grows from the interweaving of voices, and it’s hard to imagine two more aware and unmistakable poetic voices on the subject of peace in the Middle East than these: Hacker and Shehabi, two brilliant witnesses, one unswerving and crystalline, the other infused with memory and dream. This is a book to savor and to meditate on— and, finally, to exult in. — Annie Finch

Poets, if asked ‘What is poetry for?’ often find themselves stumped for an answer.  In this stunning sequence of renga, Marilyn Hacker and Deema Shehabi, have given us more than one.  Poetry travels the globe, from Gaza to Syria, Beirut to California, brings each place to life, its people, stories, moments behind locked doors, while bringing them under one roof, the roof of the imagination.  Poetry invokes the power of memory, of naming, by listening as much as speaking, by keeping the windows of the heart open in conversation.  Poetry evokes landscapes of loss in a ruptured world, bridges differences, respects binaries, and yet still suggests a sense of oneness, of humanity, still celebrates the human spirit while mourning one wound, one world.  We celebrate these two voices, bleeding in and out of each other, quicksilver, mercurial, eloquent in song and in silence. — Mimi Khalvati

‘These poets piece together the exact same shattered mirrors of identities that are the shrapnel of our ever-worsening global conflicts.’

‘Written continents apart, Diaspo/Renga reads like one story, a story that challenges divisive notions, a story that contains scenes to which we all have an equal claim.’ —  Shadab Zeest Hashmi on 3 Quarks Daily

‘bringing to readers a great cast of characters whose voices clamour to be heard. A very successful poetic experiment.’ — Banipal 51

‘The book is not only a dialogue between the two poets, but also between the present and the past. The poets deal with these difficult human issues by tapping the wisdom of classical and modern masters, their poetry a collective eternal text written by all poets everywhere.’ — Miled Faiza in Al-Jadid

‘In true renga form, each piece carries on a theme or image from the previous poem, creating a continuous dialogue rich in language and meaning.’ — World Literature Today

‘The sequences of ten-line poems in alternating three- and twoline stanzas imagine the personae of dozens of victims of violence and
displacement.’ — Moira Richards in Wasafiri

‘What a beautiful unique book! The poems are descriptive and full of life and emotions!’  — Maram Bata on Amazon

‘In it the two voices blend in and out of one another, picking up a word, an image, a line, from the poem preceding.’  — Kenyon Review

‘I have long followed Hacker’s work and admired her poetry. To add Shehabi’s voice to this global endeavor raises the bar several more notches, and reinforces and strengthens the power of the collection as a whole.’

‘As our planet turns, as we are more and more steeped in violence, voices like Hacker’s and Shehabi’s are essential.’ — Marilyn Krysl on Women Write the Rockies

‘Diaspo/Renga dramatizes how Jewish and Palestinian experiences of exile (the diaspo(ra) of the title) come together in an act of imaginative empathy for and solidarity with oppressed and displaced peoples. The book’s intriguing origins speak to the possibilities of solidarity in a digital age.’ — Philip Metres in On the Seawall

‘The poems tell stories of exile, war, and loss, without ever letting go of day-to-day details, like someone singing Frank Sinatra, and someone else watching videos of Grease between blackouts.’ — Zeina Hashem Beck in The Common