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Video: Suheir Hammad | Poems of war, peace, women, power

Poet Suheir Hammad performs two spine-tingling spoken-word pieces: “What I Will” and “break (clustered)” — meditations on war and peace, on women and power. Wait for the astonishing line: “Do not fear what has blown up. If you must, fear the unexploded.”

Running time: 6 minutes

Email subscribers may click the title of this post to see the video.

Suheir Hammad (born 1973) is an American poet, author, actress, performer, and political activist in Amman, Jordan. Her parents were Palestinian refugees who immigrated along with their daughter to New York City when she was five years old. As an adolescent growing up in Brooklyn, Hammad was heavily influenced by Brooklyn’s vibrant hip-hop scene. She had also absorbed the stories from her parents and grandparents of life in their hometown of Lydda, before the 1948 Palestinian exodus, and of the suffering they endured afterward, first in the Gaza Strip and then in Jordan. From these disparate influences Hammad was able to weave into her work a common narrative of dispossession,

In 2008, she was cast in her first fiction role in cinema, the Palestinian film Salt of this Sea (2008) by Annemarie Jacir, which premiered as an official selection in the Un Certain Regard competition of the Cannes Film Festival. 

For more information about Hammad, see her oral history interview at the Center for Brooklyn History.

What I Will

I will not dance to your war drum.
I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drum.
I will not dance to that beating.
I know that beat.
It is lifeless.
I know intimately that skin you are hitting.
It was alive once, hunted, stolen, stretched.
I will not dance to your drummed up war.
I will not pop, spin, break for you.
I will not hate for you or even hate you.
I will not kill for you.
Especially I will not die for you.
I will not mourn the dead with murder nor suicide.
I will not side with you or dance to bombs because everyone is dancing.
Everyone can be wrong.
Life is a right, not collateral or casual.
I will not forget where I come from.
I will craft my own drum.
Gather my beloved near, and our chanting will be dancing.
Our humming will be drumming.
I will not be played.
I will not lend my name nor my rhythm to your beat.
I will dance and resist and dance and persist and dance.
This heartbeat is louder than death.
Your war drum ain’t louder than this breath.


Copyright 2018 Suheir Hammad. Included in Vox Populi for educational purposes only.

9 comments on “Video: Suheir Hammad | Poems of war, peace, women, power

  1. matthewjayparker
    April 17, 2023

    Hah. Actually I haven’t thought about it. I’m not a big hip hop guy, but now that you planted the seed….


  2. vengodalmare
    April 16, 2023

    Marvelous voice and recitation, good poem. Thank you.


  3. matthewjayparker
    April 15, 2023

    The hidden rhymes lend these poems a bit of street cred. Not surprising, giving her Brooklyn upbringing. I’ll have my students lend an ear on Tuesday. Next semester, they’ll write one of their four essays on one or both of these.


    • Vox Populi
      April 15, 2023

      Thanks, Matthew!

      Liked by 1 person

      • matthewjayparker
        April 15, 2023

        It’s funny, most don’t realize how connected that scene was. the rap scene with graffiti art and and rock and roll, especially in the Bronx. The Blondie song Rapture is not only a shout out to hip hop (Rapture a pun on the word Rap) but so too art, so much so that if you watch the video Basquiat is behind the turntables and Lee QuiƱones is busily tagging in the background.


  4. laureanne2013
    April 14, 2023

    “I will not be played” “I will craft my own drum” — Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

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