Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Lisa Suhair Majaj's Geographies of Light: The Lighted Landscape of Hope

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Lisa Suhair Majaj's Geographies of Light: The Lighted Landscape of Hope

Article excerpt

Lisa Suhair Majaj's Del Sol Press Poetry Prize 2010 winning collection of verses (Del Sol Press, Washington, D.C., 2009, pp. 133) presents a wonderful landscape, which is filled with the presence of light. The landscape spreads over different continents and establishes the poet's belief and hope in humanity by building up an imaginative geography in which she feels at home.

Since the Palestinian-American--born in Iowa, brought up in Amman, educated in Beirut and Michigan, and now living in Cyprus--cannot locate the map she can exclusively claim as her own, she decides to create one for herself through her poetry. How does she draw the lines of this unusual map, though? In my view, Majaj's cartographic skill is the most significant aspect of this collection, for she determines the lines of her imaginative map in a brilliant way. She achieves them by joining the multitude of tiny drops of light emanating from the concrete goodness and warmth of human heart. Majaj excavates her experiences in order to trace the human connection with nature, the fellow human beings, and even the greater celestial environment amidst the struggle to live, to come to terms with losses and deep traumas, and of course, the joys of living. Thus, the poet expresses how the light of the human heart becomes visible to her through her life and reality on earth.

Therefore, her poetic mission seems to be to keep knitting the shawl made up of the drops of light that she discovers around her, for one cannot fight against darkness with further darkness. Instead, one needs more and more light-drops to drive it out. Understandably, the drops are not as innumerable as to be readily visible. Therefore, the particles of light that adorn Majaj's landscape delineating her memories, visions, and emotions are hard-earned through her constant search for them. Reading the book, therefore, one is bound to have the feeling that Majaj never ceases to collect the particles to keep forming her ideal map of belonging. As a result, this book of poetry is about keeping focus on the collection, despite the change of places, events and situations that define the poet's life.

I reiterate that her search spans a full gamut of experiences ranging from the pluralistic upbringing, to the sufferings of dislocation, to remembering childhood freedom, to achieving calmness and moving forward. The extract appearing below from the poem, 'Living in History,' beautifully captures her idea of the light being created out of the living history of human existence through all its variations:

        Whatever the skins we live in,
   the names we choose, the gods we claim
      or disavow,
   may we be like grains of sand on the
      beach at night:
   a hundred million separate particles
   creating a single expanse on which to lie
   and study the stars. And may we
      remember the generosity
   of light: how it travels through
      unimaginable darkness,
   age after age, to light our small human
      night. (122)

Her steadfast belief in lighting the 'small human night' is why she declares above that we are not to dwell on our exterior differences. Neither 'the skins we live in' nor 'the gods we claim or disavow' are crucial to her, then. Instead, she wants us to be as rooted to the world as the 'grains of sand on the beach at night' and yet keep looking upwards, just like them, as they fix their gaze at 'the stars,' As hard to reach as it might sound, a silent but powerful strength is embedded in such an ambitious assertion. Majaj aims here to make us realize that the light of the stars visits us by traversing the vast expanses of 'unimaginable darkness.' Similarly, the light of the human soul keeps awake and alive amidst all sorts of deprivations inside the atmosphere of the earth. Majaj makes our communion with the stars possible, then, in order for us to recognize our celestial existence that could be all the more inspiring, if we put things in perspective. …

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