Settling in and researching Beqaa Valley
exploring Dearborn + poetry things + flowers
Hello! I am AANM’s Artist in Residence for February 2023! I’m a poet from Tulsa, OK, and I’m working on a poetry project called Beqaa Valley Violet during my time here.
Starting a new creative project can be daunting, but if there’s one thing that I can do, it’s research. My Media Studies degree prepared me for that, and I can just hear my professors in my head, nudging me onwards and pointing out when I’ve bitten off a bigger question than I have time to chew on.
At first, I wanted to do an in-depth study of the relationship each Arab/SWANA country has to nature. But that’s the kind of project that you spend YEARS on. The idea is still very much a part of the undercurrent of my project, but it’s not my main focus right now, especially with just a month to really dig into my research and writing.
Beqaa Valley Violet is in the early stages. I think it may eventually become a chapbook or collection of poems featuring a variety of speakers, or narrators, as they navigate a metaphorical journey through Beqaa Valley, wrestling with modes of movement as well as perceptions of duality, stability, and wholeness. (Full disclosure: there probably aren’t Lebanese Violets in Beqaa, but the symbolism of the violet is a pretty strong feature for this project, so it had to make it in the title).
Although I have fond memories of from a visit to Lebanon in 2006, I never fully realized the incredible biodiversity present in Beqaa Valley and Lebanon as whole. In fact, it’s considered a “hotspot” for biodiversity, as it is a part of the Mediterranean Basin.
From Lebanon Flora, a database I’ve been heavily relying on for my research.
“According to the latest assessment of Lebanese flora (Tohmé and Tohmé 2006); more than 2600 plant species are recorded, of which 103 species are endemic to Lebanon (Leb), 336 endemic to Lebanon and other regional countries (Syria, Palestine and/or Turkey) and 745 endemic to the east Mediterranean region (EMR). Unfortunately, as in other circum-Mediterranean countries, the plant biodiversity is weakened by the strong impact of human activities.”
2600! And that’s just from the latest assessment.
Since I began my residency, I’ve been diving pretty deep into this database, along with other resources, such as the incredible work of Dr. Nisrine Machaka and Dr. Ahmad Houri, who have made it their mission to document hundreds of flowers across Lebanon.
Sometimes, my research serves as a direct prompt for a poem. Other times, I let it swirl around in my head, blending with the other half of my research, which stems from cultural studies, the Lebanese diaspora, Arab-American activism, and stories of Arab-Americans navigating our existence in a globalized world.
Some of the poems I’ve written are more confessional in nature; others are inspired by my research — such as a poem about the Iris sofarana, which is endemic to Lebanon and thought to be extinct until a few were found in someone’s backyard in Baalbek a few years ago.
Anyways, I’m feeling grateful to be in Dearborn and for all the connections I’ve made in the short time I’ve been here. I am full of joy and excitement for all of the ways this narrative is forming. Stay tuned for more updates + thoughts as I explore Dearborn/Detroit and work on my project.
P.S. If you’re in Dearborn next Friday, come to AANM’s Open Mic night, which I will be hosting! And even if you’re not in Dearborn, you can view a livestream of the event. I might even read you a few poems…