Rawa Majdi is a Palestinian-American 20-something, currently living in Kuwait. She teaches Information Technology to elementary girls in Kuwait as her day job but she ‘s also doing loads of other amazing things worth looking out for! She started Kuwait's Poets Society with her sister AJ that’s celebrating it's one year anniversary this month. Since the creation of Kuwait's Poets Society, Rawa and a group of poets have been meeting once a month to discuss and share poetry and sometimes put on stellar spoken word nights. Rawa's poetry has so many layers and so many feels, you feel chills going down your spine listening to her strong voice. In her poems Boys Do Cry or Flora, she covers topics from friendship to love and even Feminism.
I'm going to be honest, when Rawa got in contact to collaborate with Banat, I got so excited to have a writer and especially a poet to work with. Through writing and performing, she is not only addressing important issues, but also exploring her own identity. Speaking in rhymes is all too natural for Rawa, as her family has been writing poetry for generations. No wonder she's so good! It gives me great joy to have a poet join Banat and share her writing with us.
Tell me about yourself.
I’ve always been “the girl with the projects” - some business idea, another hobby, my next obsession over things to make and ideas to start. Some have been successful (2,000 of my hand-painted mugs are out there in the world, somewhere) and some have not (RIP to all of my half-knitted sweaters and half-developed apps). Performance poetry and leading Kuwait's Poets Society is my current “project”, and to be honest, it feels less like something that I’ll move on from, and more like a culmination of all that I’ve learned from all that I’ve begun and ended throughout the years.
Could you tell me about that defining moment when you decided to pursue poetry?
It might sound poetically-exaggerated, but I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. I remember putting pen to paper in first grade and writing out all of the stories I came up with, churned up by all of the books I liked to drown myself in after school. I picked up poetry when it was first introduced to us in English class, probably around third or fourth grade, and onwards throughout middle school. I adored rhyming - all of my early work relied on rhymes so heavily so much so that I make jokes about it sometimes (“...I’m going back to my “the big fat cat sat on a hat and the bird flies high in the sky” days”). It isn’t as “cool” to rhyme in spoken word poetry (it’s more about the flow and wordplay), but I still sneak a few in to appease my inner child.
Poetry runs in my family - my grandfather wrote poetry, my father does, and my sister AJ (co-founder of Kuwait's Poets Society!) writes and performs poetry just as I do.
You speak about writing from an ‘intersection’ where you are a woman, a Muslim, Palestinian, American and human; could you elaborate what this intersection means to you.
There is this fear in poets, and I’ve noticed it in myself and in others, that their work is not particularly unique or that they are saying something that has already been said.
The intersection - woman, Muslim, Palestinian, American, human, myself - shapes every piece that I write. There is no one who is distinctly Rawa, there is no person out there who has arranged these particular words in this particular way, and that is true for every artist.
What are your thoughts on the role of feminism in Arab culture?
Arab culture favors men, just as most cultures do, and across the Arab world there are such diverse experiences and current situations for women, so this is a hard question to answer.
There have been feminist Arabs forever, but I think the movement has grown feet and shaped into something different in the past 20 years. There is still the crappy stay-at-home-and-be-a-good-wife sort of thinking, but I think there’s less of that and more of an understanding that equality is literally the most logical way to go.
Tell me what inspired you to write "Boys Do Cry".
I wrote "Boys Do Cry" after being invited to be a guest poet at a discussion at a university here in Kuwait. I was originally told the discussion's topic was Feminism, and I was all for it: I've written quite a bit of poetry on female empowerment. A few days later, I was informed that the topic was switched to - of all things - Meninism. I was annoyed, because the Meninist "movement" is deeply misogynistic and I definitely didn't think that men needed "any more rights", given their current privileged spot in society. I decided that I'd write a poem in protest, completely against Meninism and against the mens' rights movement. And I did begin one, but what happened instead was a realization that masculinity is quite toxic, quite harmful, and it is, in fact, feminist to think so. I thought about the way that I'd like to raise a boy, if I am ever to have one, to be strong yet soft, to be forward yet feeling, to be less of what society expect a man to be and more of what a human should be. From that, "Boys Do Cry" was born.
How do you feel being multi-cultural or ‘mixed race’ has influenced your life?
For me, the influence of Palestinian, American, and Kuwaiti culture has been less of a terrible collision and more of a good, yet highly confusing, mix. A majority of my struggles comes from trying to disentangle the three from each other (How the hell do I give mujamala in this particular situation? What is this particular word in the Kuwaiti dialect rather than the Palestinian?? Do I smile at this stranger or would I get a death glare???), but I can understand and am influenced by art and literature across the three cultures, and to me that is a blessing.
Could you tell me about the responses and reactions you have received from setting up Kuwait’s Poets Society?
It makes me so happy to say that the response to Kuwait's Poets Society has been all positive.
Kuwait's Poets Society started out as a teensy-tiny idea: gather poet friends once a month for coffee, compliments and criticism on poetry, and chill. It has grown to be so much more, and it makes me incredibly happy to look back at 2016 and all that Kuwait's Poets Society has become. It has grown over time to be a collective of 60+ incredible poets in Kuwait who put on poetry events, collaborate across arenas of art, and who love each other just as fiercely as they love poetry.
Who or what inspires you?
At the moment, I’m particularly inspired by my childhood. It’s a theme across my poetry, and it’s something I only realized when my sister and bud-in-writing AJ pointed out. I suppose at some point, I’ll move on from it, but for now, I’m exploring what it meant to grow up as me: what I saw, how I felt, and how it has shaped me.
Moving outwards, I’m consistently inspired by art and the arts community here in Kuwait, as well as my favorite spoken word poets: Andrea Gibson, Sarah Kay, and Anis Mojgani.
What is it about BANAT that appeals to you?
I was excited as soon as I heard about BANAT and its initiative. I’m all for a spotlight on women’s work - we need to be celebrated and our work needs to be brought to light, so that we can have the courage to show more, to make more, and to be more than what society has attempted to mold us to be.
interviewed by Sara Safwan