Poetry Muse: Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch + The Good Arabs
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch shares their second collection The Good Arabs (Metonymy Press) in this latest instalment of Poetry Muse. They discuss working amidst other artists and creators, exploring the tensions and linkages between the micro and macro, and share their poem "The Cycle."See more details below
An interview with Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch
1. Who/what is your muse?
I don’t really have a muse. I’m mostly inspired by other writers. See poets/poetry collections I admire below.
2. What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing?
I was writing individual poems at first. A saw a thread throughout my work, exploring memory, place, queerness, colonialism and the formation of countries through arbitrary borders, garbage, and so much more. I wanted to write a book that connected the macro (big picture) to the micro (everyday) and to swing back and forth between the two. Things that inspired me along the way were the smells and sounds of places, whether in Montreal or Lebanon, that I incorporated in the poems.
The initial drafts of about half of the poems were written while I was in my undergrad at Concordia. Then I rewrote a lot of those poems, and wrote a bunch of new poems, at a studio space my friend manages, a mix of writers, artists, and potters. Being around people who are creating all day and who are dedicated to their craft really helped me write. Now that I work mostly from home, alone, it’s much harder to create habits and to become motivated.
3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?
I started writing poetry during my first year of university. I actually used to write fiction as a kid and teen, I think because I read a lot of fiction. I didn’t really read poetry before university (I did an English/Creative Writing undergrad) and never really thought about poetry before. Once I started reading it, I was really drawn in and started writing my own. I love writing poetry because I enjoy playing with language, rhythm, and sound, and I love the freedom and flexibility the form allows for. I actually also write fiction but I’ve just been focused on poetry for the past 6-7 years.
4. How would you describe your poetry collection?
My second collection, The Good Arabs, investigates place, language, the body, borders, garbage, and the everyday. Moving back and forth between the micro (everyday) and the macro (socio-political & environmental past and present of Lebanon & Canada), my book tries to ask questions rather than provide the reader with easy answers.
Three words to describe the collection = garbage, borders, Nancy Ajram.
5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
Write even if you don’t think it’s good. Not everything you’re going to write is good but you won’t get to the good writing if you don’t struggle through the bad or the boring. Read a lot. You are not creating in a bubble. And be open to edits! The editing process can really bring new life to a poem and it allows for more of a collaborative experience of writing.
6. Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?
Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Renee Gladman’s Calamities (poetry adjacent), Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk, Trish Salah’s Wanting in Arabic. Other poets who I admire are Tommy Pico, Bhanu Kapil, Hanif Abdurraquib, Anne Boyer, Tess Liem, Marwa Helal, and so many more people.
7. Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?
Music definitely inspires me. Mostly Moses Sumney's Aromanticism, Utakata No Hibi by Mariah, Aziza Brahim's Soutak, and Cocteau Twin's Victorialand.
A poem from The Good Arabs - "The Cycle"
these days, i see capitalism written plainly in every poem, though the poetry masters say, show, don't tell, but if we were to show this indiscernible void, the make believe of pieces of paper, sometimes coin, which make the world go, not round, but into the hands of the few, would this change how you see this intoxication with power?
he looks up from his food, a hamburger between two slices of bread, and asks as though this were the most important question, “will Teta have enough khoboz to eat back home?”
Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits having sexual relations that are "contradicting the laws of nature", which is punishable by up to a year in prison. As a practical matter, enforcement of the law had been varied and often occurred through occasional police arrests.
That is to say, this law was put in place by the French government in the early 1900s.
They say a relic.
I say a shift in the century, a matter of public privacy.
She says aaybeshoum, which means, we have absorbed their respectability.
these days, I see more people looking for work. it is unavailable. those of us in the service industry must risk our lives or risk our lives. there is never really a choice. one way or another, they will ultimately claim us. who are they? we don’t even know. the facelessness makes them undetectable.
I marvel at the care I find in my neighbours, in my friends, in the people on the internet tweeting dark jokes that sustain me through another day. this weakness in us, in you, in me, is not weakness but a sickness, not always of our own making. we try our best to help each other, but they do not let us. tents are destroyed. shelters must be sober. the snow falls for the first time, and though the streets glimmer white, it is not a good omen.
one day there is money, the next there is not. the value plummets though the pieces of paper still look the same, the lira sitting in my coin purse, hidden away.
the riots begin, a consequence of so much death. it only makes sense. we debate whether this is the right recourse or not. this is not up for debate. what is the difference between objects and people? when we turn certain people into objects, we become monsters, ugliness not seen in the way we look, but our hearts, drying up yellow, quickly. redirect our attention.
the death of one political man means nothing. i would say woman or person, but it is almost always a man. they replace one man with another, and it is always the same. this time it is in our faces. escalated, some of us adapt. the men are starving, but not for food. this insatiable hunger leaves us wanting for more.
but what is a homosexual who is not a homosexual outdoors, not indoors, not in private? but what is an Arab who is not a homosexual who is not an Arab who is not a homosexual?
read: you may only transition if you have the surgery.
that is to say, you must become one of us.
read: a year in prison, read: the police are called, read: the bars are raided, read: acts “contradicting the laws of nature”, read: at the hands of the police, read: and the military,
read: I will not describe to you what violations occur, what a prison looks like, if only to stop the violence from reoccurring on the page.
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Eli Tareq El Bechelany's writing has been in The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 anthology, GUTS, CarteBlanche, the Shade Journal, The New Quarterly, Arc Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. They were longlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2019. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter @theonlyelitareq. Their book knot body was published by Metatron Press in September 2020. The Good Arabs is their second poetry collection.
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During the month of April, you can buy The Good Arabs and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with the promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!
Keep up with us all month on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.
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