Bina Ruchi Perino: How long did working on Letters From The Interior take, from conception to publication?
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha: The very first poems of this chapbook began after some translations of Fairuz songs, while I was on retreat at Hedgebrook in 2015. Meadow cabin in April—the light and the silence gave me so much room to be playful, to listen. New textures and eventually whole worlds emerged from lines I had known and sung for years.
After the Fairuz-pantoums I began to write the Letters. These poems came together more slowly. I kept working on the poems during my years at the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. Eventually, a full-length manuscript came together, and I’m still refining it. The letters and songs, the rooms in which they echo, however, became 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.
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.