It all began from that morning in breakfast room that was a 'common room' for writers during my stay at the Iowa House Hotel. I stayed there for about three months as a fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Every year, the International Writing Program hosts almost thirty-four writers from all around the world. Last year it hosted more than forty writers because the program completed its 50th year and was celebrating its long-term association with writers. I was privileged enough to be a part of the 50th anniversary of IWP and hence rewarded by meeting and sharing words with more than forty-three writers.

Coming back to the breakfast room. This was the first morning of my stay in Iowa. After trying to make a room for myself in an alien land I looked around and spotted two women sitting in a not-so-cornered table. I anticipated them to be the fellow participants. I was right. It was her sitting with the Egyptian physician-cum-writer Ghada Al-Absy. They invited me over to join them for the breakfast-discussion which became our morning ritual for those three months. After brief introductory session, we started talking about the literature from Arabic and South-Asian world. This was the first day and I felt a strong bond with her when we started talking about Mahmoud Darwesh and ended our conversation on Forough Farrokkhzad. I felt an urge to hear about her life. So, one night in the first week I asked her out for a walk. It was almost dark and I had a strange feeling that she would refuse. The reason for that feeling could be my experience in Pakistan. In Pakistan it was usually a forbidden thing for women to go out once it was dark. But, to my amazement, she agreed. Hence, we were out exploring Iowa-streets on our own without any guidance, talking fearlessly, laughing and sharing bittersweet phases of our lives with each other. That was the night I discovered that she was the second name of resistance. She had been fighting in her own capacity with the Israel’s occupation of her homeland; Palestine but not through poetry. 

Fatena Al Ghorra, born as a Palestinian refugee, participated in the International Writing Program as a Belgian writer. This sentence should be reflective enough to indicate the complexity she has lived through. She lived in Gaza, Palestine, for the major portion of her life and migrated to Egypt, France and finally to Belgium nine years ago when it became almost impossible for her to survive through the politics and the patriarchal setup of the land. In 2016, she was given the status of a Belgian national and hence was sent to the IWP'17 as a Belgian writer of Arab diaspora. Al Ghorra has worked with Aljazeera as a journalist for many years and now she runs her own poetry salon in Belgium. As a close friend and fellow participant, it was quite an experience to witness her fight the idea of identity and the idea of home. In her readings, interviews and panel discussion she would always begin by recalling her affiliation with Palestine but then she would also mention Belgium, at times wilfully and at times half-heartedly. In a panel discussion, titled as "Is my home in my memories, or in my reality?”, which she shared with the writers from Basque, Germany, Kazakhstan and New Zealand, she said "I feel at home even while staying in Belgium when someone speaks to me in Arabic." Another interesting thing for myself, being a conscious English-speaking-Pakistani, was her pride in her self-taught, grammatically incorrect English. Readers might feel this was something negative but no, it was inspirational. She bluntly owned the fragmented English expression and she would proudly announce that: "I taught myself this English. I did not went to big universities like you." 

One thing which remains an enigma till today is her idea of not utilizing politics or any issue related to Gaza or Palestine in her poetry. I spoke with her in detail about it and she ended the conversation by saying: "I need to do poetry. I need to celebrate beauty and love. Politicians will do their job." Her poetry celebrates love, life, womanhood and femininity. I was lucky enough to record three of her poems for my YouTube channel. Her work has been translated in more than ten languages. The work celebrates fierce human-energy and womanhood. Her recent poetry collection titled as Orgasm is selectively translated by Ms. Claire Jacobson in English. The work which indicates intense feminine sensibility is created by a woman whose name is Fatena Al Ghorra. 

One of her poems titled as “Orgasm” is here for readers’ delight;


When Death comes for me
I want to prepare for him like a lover for her beloved
Light the house with candles
Down the curtains between the peering eyes and me
Wash my body gently, 
Sweeten it with perfume
Rub it with oil, lightly, subtly
Slip on a nightgown of black lace
And kindle the background music
Anticipating the kiss of life
Like a whore I will readies for him
lighting her apartment in red
Rubs her body with oil
Erasing the memory of men who haven’t been back
Scenting it with a blend of cheap perfumes
Waiting in the doorway
With all her skills and experiences
For the moment he enters
To unzip his trousers and start her work
I will receive Death as should a wife
cleans the house Friday night of the children’s mess
Then takes a shower
Dabs some kohl and pink lipstick
Wears comfortable pajamas
And lies down in the middle of the bed
Readied to do her duty
I will receive Death fully as should a nun
With incense filling the air
The floating scent of calm
That leaves no room for anything else
I will stretch out/ on the altar
Obedient and powerless
And allow delight to drug my limbs with unrelenting slowness
Poised, with no trace of doubt
I will lie down like I never have for a man
Give him what he deserves
As a mistress readies for her lover
Waits at the window for his knock
While she chills the wine
prepares the cigarettes and the music
The favorite songs and video clips
That it will make them laugh
until their eyes fill with tears
The light-footed dance      to the beat of delight
Then the fingers start the work, 
slowly,  slowly

Translated by Claire Jacobson
You can find the YouTube link to 'Orgasm' here.