Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
Photo Courtesy of the Author
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. Her first book, Water & Salt (Red Hen Press) won the 2018 Washington State Book Award. Her chapbook, Arab in Newsland, won the 2016 Two Sylvias Press Prize. She is the recipient of a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship and has served as the inaugural Poet-In-Residence at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, in Seattle. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She has been published in Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature.
Letters from the Interior
In the early days of January 2011, a series of revolution began to unfold across several Arab cities. Some toppled regimes, others unravelled into bitter, protracted wars still ablaze today. More often than not, the experience of Arab womanhood unfolds against a backdrop of ongoing wars, unravelling freedom movements, and exiles. Women are tasked with the extensive and relentless work of preserving life, of keeping histories and the human beings populating them alive. The poems in Letters from the Interior are artifacts of this work. These poems are sketches of the homes we create on the run and in exile, lyrics of songs that expand to lament much more than our individual heartbreaks, unsent letters to the women who anchor us, and language lessons that navigate the landscapes of time and place.
“What does it mean when the difference / between witness and tombstone/ is just one vowel?" asks the deeply intelligent speaker of Letters from the Interior. This is a linguistic masterpiece; a simultaneous critique and complement to what doesn't make the news. It is loss and language learning, and learning about loss through language.”
—Marwa Helal, author of Invasive species
“Lena Khalaf Tuffaha’s Letters from the Interior is a beautifully haunting and startling collection. Through epistolaries to Miss Sahar, pantoums, elegies of longing, and persona poems, language is made and remade in rubble and roots. Letters from the Interior sings forth songs of vulnerability, violence, trust, homeland, displacement, the trauma of war, the power of language and the weight of its conjugations, border crossing, resistance, and the resilient tenderness of “soft unburned wicks”. Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet who demands that we honor and gather in our arms all that is lost and all that is possible – tear gas, maps, barbed wire, the roots of language, “the bees inside/the anemones,” lemon blossoms – in order to live. Poetry is this very space of living – the breath of layered history, the blood of necessary storytelling: "I don't know how it happened/and yet I've known it always,/the poems we sang." Khalaf Tuffaha asks: "but how does a language feed us?" Letters from the Interior is a means toward sustenance, toward “globes of sap,” toward an unraveling of the hunger to be heard and seen. We must listen, must hold these poems close.”
—Jane Wong, author of Overpour