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TEDWomen 2010

Suheir Hammad: Poems of war, peace, women, power

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Views 609,060

Poet Suheir Hammad performs two spine-tingling spoken-word pieces: "What I Will" and "break (clustered)" -- meditations on war and peace, on women and power. Wait for the astonishing line: "Do not fear what has blown up. If you must, fear the unexploded."

- Poet, playwright
In her poems and plays, Suheir Hammad blends the stories and sounds of her Palestinian-American heritage with the vibrant language of Brooklyn to create a passionately modern voice. Full bio

"What I Will"
00:16
I will not dance to your war drum.
00:18
I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drum.
00:22
I will not dance to that beating.
00:25
I know that beat.
00:27
It is lifeless.
00:29
I know intimately that skin you are hitting.
00:31
It was alive once,
00:34
hunted, stolen,
00:36
stretched.
00:38
I will not dance to your drummed-up war.
00:40
I will not pop, spin, break for you.
00:43
I will not hate for you
00:46
or even hate you.
00:48
I will not kill for you.
00:50
Especially I will not die for you.
00:52
I will not mourn the dead with murder nor suicide.
00:56
I will not side with you or dance to bombs
00:59
because everyone is dancing.
01:01
Everyone can be wrong.
01:03
Life is a right, not collateral or casual.
01:05
I will not forget where I come from.
01:09
I will craft my own drum.
01:11
Gather my beloved near,
01:13
and our chanting will be dancing.
01:15
Our humming will be drumming.
01:17
I will not be played.
01:19
I will not lend my name nor my rhythm to your beat.
01:21
I will dance and resist and dance and persist and dance.
01:25
This heartbeat is louder than death.
01:29
Your war drum ain't louder
01:32
than this breath. Haaa.
01:34
What's up TED people? Let me hear you make some noise.
01:38
(Applause)
01:41
A bunch of pacifists.
01:43
Confused, aspiring pacifists.
01:46
I understand.
01:49
I've been wrong a lot lately.
01:53
Like a lot.
01:58
So I couldn't figure out
02:00
what to read today.
02:03
I mean, I've been saying I've been prepping.
02:05
What that means is prepping my outfit,
02:08
(Laughter)
02:10
prepping options,
02:12
trying to figure out what I'm coming behind
02:14
and going in front of.
02:16
Poetry does that.
02:19
It preps you. It aims you.
02:21
So I am going to read a poem
02:24
that was chosen just now.
02:26
But I'm going to need you
02:28
to just sit for like 10 minutes
02:30
and hold a woman who is not here.
02:32
Hold her now
02:35
with you.
02:38
You don't need to say her name out loud, you can just hold her.
02:42
Are you holding her?
02:44
This is "Break Clustered."
02:49
All holy history banned.
02:53
Unwritten books predicted the future, projected the past.
02:57
But my head unwraps
03:01
around what appears limitless,
03:03
man's creative violence.
03:06
Whose son shall it be?
03:09
Which male child will perish a new day?
03:12
Our boys' deaths galvanize.
03:16
We cherish corpses.
03:19
We mourn women, complicated.
03:21
Bitches get beat daily.
03:23
Profits made, prophets ignored.
03:25
War and tooth, enameled salted lemon childhoods.
03:28
All colors run, none of us solid.
03:31
Don't look for shadow behind me. I carry it within.
03:34
I live cycles of light and darkness.
03:37
Rhythm is half silence.
03:40
I see now, I never was one and not the other.
03:42
Sickness, health, tender violence.
03:45
I think now I never was pure.
03:49
Before form I was storm,
03:51
blind, ign'ant -- still am.
03:54
Human contracted itself blind, malignant.
03:57
I never was pure.
04:00
Girl spoiled before ripened.
04:02
Language can't math me.
04:05
I experience exponentially.
04:07
Everything is everything.
04:09
One woman loses 15, maybe 20, members of her family.
04:12
One woman loses six.
04:16
One woman loses her head.
04:18
One woman searches rubble. One woman feeds on trash.
04:20
One woman shoots her face. One woman shoots her husband.
04:23
One woman straps herself.
04:26
One woman gives birth to a baby.
04:28
One woman gives birth to borders.
04:30
One woman no longer believes love will ever find her.
04:32
One woman never did.
04:35
Where do refugee hearts go?
04:37
Broken, dissed,
04:40
placed where they're not from, don't want to be missed.
04:42
Faced with absence.
04:45
We mourn each one
04:47
or we mean nothing at all.
04:49
My spine curves spiral.
04:51
Precipice running to and running from human beings.
04:54
Cluster bombs left behind.
04:58
De facto landmines.
05:00
A smoldering grief.
05:02
Harvest contaminated tobacco.
05:04
Harvest bombs.
05:07
Harvest baby teeth.
05:09
Harvest palms, smoke.
05:11
Harvest witness, smoke.
05:14
Resolutions, smoke.
05:17
Salvation, smoke.
05:20
Redemption, smoke.
05:23
Breathe.
05:25
Do not fear
05:27
what has blown up.
05:29
If you must,
05:33
fear the unexploded.
05:36
Thank you.
05:40
(Applause)
05:42

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About the speaker:

Suheir Hammad - Poet, playwright
In her poems and plays, Suheir Hammad blends the stories and sounds of her Palestinian-American heritage with the vibrant language of Brooklyn to create a passionately modern voice.

Why you should listen

Suheir Hammad is the author of Breaking Poems, recipient of a 2009 American Book Award and the Arab American Book award for Poetry 2009. Her other books are ZaatarDivaBorn Palestinian, Born Black; and Drops of This Story. Her work has been widely anthologized and also adapted for theater.

Her produced plays include Blood Trinity and breaking letter(s), and she wrote the libretto for the multimedia performance Re-Orientalism. An original writer and performer in the Tony-winning Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Suheir appears in the 2008 Cannes Film Festival Official Selection Salt of This Sea. She is the Artist in Residency at the NYU’s APA Institute for 2010.

More profile about the speaker
Suheir Hammad | Speaker | TED.com