In a poem by Zeina Hashem Beck, a woman and her friend are sitting at a bar, similar to one they sat in ten years ago. But the bar has changed, they have changed, and the city has changed too…
‘Ten Years Later in a Different Bar’, is one of 40 vignettes that pays tribute to Beirut. Awarded the 2013 Backwaters Prize, Zeina’s debut collection of poetry, ‘To live in Autumn’, was published last year, marking this memorable Middle East poet in the hearts of poetry and literature lovers.
The beauty of her poetry does not just draw you in through the aesthetic of her language but also through an emotional appeal. When she performs as a spoken-word artist and takes the stage, as she often does in poetry readings in Dubai and Beirut, her poetry pays homage to a city that countless others miss too.
“The initial urge to write this book was definitely nostalgia,” shared Zeina, “I left Beirut in 2006 and I was overwhelmed with this feeling of loss. And so I wrote, and it was only two years later when I looked back at what I had written, that I decided to consciously focus on identity.”
As she penned down her words, a large part of them were inspired by her memories. The result is a collection of memoirs that both beautifully and agonizingly depict Beirut. “I have this love-hate relationship with Beirut and Lebanon. I think the book came from this feeling. It’s this beautiful chaos of the country, you love it and you hate it all at once.”
Getting published wasn’t an easy feat for Zeina. “When I graduated I knew nothing of publishing and the literary working world. It’s not been an easy journey. It’s been a long one. But I’m glad it’s been a long one. It has taught me to be patient, to practice, and to hone my craft.”
Zeina grew up in Tripoli in Lebanon, later studying English Literature at the American University of Beirut. “It’s that initial urge to write though. It has to come bursting out of you, then you revise it, rationalize it and rework it.”
Her advice to the budding writers in this region? “Write and read. Read contemporary poetry, read more than you write. Surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. Write about what is important to you.”