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#WOTSTalks: Interview with Najwa Zebian

September 20, 2018

As always, The Word On The Street is coming up this September. But the fall can’t get here soon enough! So we sat down with Najwa Zebian, author of Mind Platter, who will be joining us at the festival this year!


WOTS: Mind Platter is categorized as a book of poetry, but the works inside are referred to as reflections. Is there a difference to you, or do you consider poetry to be fairly liminal? Are there things you can do with reflections that you can’t with poetry?

Najwa Zebian: Poetry is the language of the soul. That is how I see it. It embodies the fluidity that our expression of who we are and what we feel is. It has no rules, just like our state of being and the chaos inside of us.

Mind Platter is written from my soul and it contains poetic verses and prose bound together in a different form. I don’t believe that reflections and poetry are different unless the person writing them intends that. For me, I sometimes have a conversation with a friend or with a stranger and walk away feeling like I just spoke in poetry. It’s about speaking your authentic self into existence. The form does not matter. It’s the content and the feelings that it evokes.


WOTS: Tell us a bit more about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

NZ: I started writing when I was 13. My journal was my first “home”. I define “home” as the place where our souls and hearts feel at peace. Welcome. I was in Lebanon at the time, struggling with feelings of exclusion and bullying for being so sensitive and so kind.

I stopped writing at 16 when I moved to Canada because the dream of a home had become too distant. And writing amplified that need and its impossibility. So I stopped wanting to feel. I ripped up my journal into tiny shreds. I remember the shreds of paper on the floor. I stopped writing for seven years.

The halt to writing came to an end when I started teaching a group of young Libyan refugees who I saw my 16 year old self in. I started writing to inspire and heal them. And I was healing my 16 year old self with that. Mind Platter is the compilation of all of those writings. The Nectar of Pain followed afterwards as a result of experiencing a painful heartbreak and wanting to make sense of it. The specific memory that always gets me emotional here is that I could have stopped writing as I did when I was 16 because I didn’t want to feel the pain. But this time, I chose to feel. I chose to write. And I chose to heal.


WOTS: You frequently use repetition and contradiction in your self-reflections. How do these devices change the meaning of your poetry? Do they?

NZ: If anything, I believe that adds to the authenticity of these reflections. As humans, we change. We have different thoughts that flow through our minds based on the context of our experiences. One day, we might believe that kindness is the way. And the next day, we might believe that it’s best to suppress kindness and act cold.

I myself read Mind Platter sometimes and think “what were you thinking when you wrote that? You were so naive.” But for me, this is what “human” means. It’s a process of evolving while being mindful of our thought processes and our contradictions within ourselves. I am not one to hide the conflicts within myself that I face. I am one to reflect on and embrace the me that is becoming, instead of dwelling on the me that was. A butterfly’s metamorphosis doesn’t make sense at every stage in isolation. But when you see the butterfly emerge, that’s when it all makes sense.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and beginning a poem?

NZ: It’s honestly really weird. Sometimes, I want to be in a coffee shop, right next to the door where there are people constantly walking in and out. Where it’s the noisiest. Other times, I have to be in my room, sitting on the ground in a corner with my journal in front of me. With absolutely no noise around. Airplanes and airports are also a favorite place to write. I usually put my journal on the tray in front of me and write. That’s my soul food.


WOTS: In the description of Mind Platter, you say that it “is not about the words that are in it, but about what the reader makes of them”. Have you had anyone find meaning in your reflections that you hadn’t originally envisioned when writing?

NZ: Absolutely. It happens all the time. You have to remember that I never envisioned how people would read my words in Mind Platter or how they would react to them at the time that I wrote them. It’s not surprising that readers make meaning from my words based on what they are going through.

For example, someone who is going through an experience of wanting to take a risk would read “Take the Lead” and most likely resonate with it. At the same time, the reader might read “Follow Your Soul” and not relate to it at all. The reaction to both reflections might change over the course of time based on what the reader needs in that exact moment of reading.


WOTS: What would you say to a poet who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think it’s crucial to know?

NZ: Just write. Don’t worry about the rules or the spelling. Don’t worry about being right or wrong. Just write. Put it all on paper as it comes to you. Then go back and edit later. Do not aim for perfection from the start because that might stop you from starting altogether.


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