Rabea Ali and Her Relationship with Poetry

by August Kissel Web Editor

People Of Manhattan

The Quadrangle: At what point did you start your relationship with poetry?

Rabea Ali: I think the fact that you summed it up as a relationship is the most accurate summary I have gotten to date. I have always been really interested in creative writing, that has always been something that is my thing. My father always said that as kids he never saw me and my sister without our noses in a book. We always read and that inspired both of us to become interested in writing. I fell into this whole world of “Wow, you can do things with words, and convey all of this and I can do this too.” And then when my life started to take points of up and down, that’s when I started to use writing as my medium of coping.

At first it was literally just throwing words onto paper. Then I discovered poetry, I discovered it through the joy that is the internet. I discovered a specific poet, Nayyiyah Waheed, and this was before she became semi-big because she is not super big, everything she said related to me as someone who was born and raised in America but always felt like I was lost in this world of the “brown girl living in America” because I have never belonged back home and I never belonged here. This was the point where I found my writing can do this for other people so maybe I shouldn’t keep it in a box, I used to keep my poems in a shoebox I still have to this day. I started actively pursuing poetry.

At first it wasn’t even writing poetry it was slam poetry. I spent most of high school at slam poetry cafes, and just showing up and listening to people while also doing a few poems myself. I slowly discovered I don’t always have time for this, and I lost that element of me completely because I wasn’t giving it the time. I lost myself freshman year because I was in the process of transitioning to a completely different life.

Come around mid-freshmen year, and Hayden approaches me and said, “We have a poetry night, did you know this?” and I have been in the Multicultural center pretty late and I did see it happen but typically I would evacuate the premises. That always stuck with me and over that summer I travelled to Pakistan as an adult, and that is where I found the most inspiration to date. It still feels like home but it also does not feel like home and that confusion is what drew me to writing.

I finally showed up to my first poetry night my sophomore year and I have been a regular since.

TQ: If a person is actively trying to start their own relationship with poetry but cannot identify with any particular author, and feels terrified and intimidated as a result, what would you recommend they do?

RA: The biggest thing I find for me even, poetry when I read it, it’s never what’s in the newstands. The smaller known people who have self published books on Amazon or have their own instagram page, you would be surprised the kind of inspiration that draws because it is so much closer to someone who is trying to get to that point in comparison to someone who appears to have “made it.” It seems as, as people make it, they become less relatable for me, that relatability is everything.

TQ: Would you say writing poetry is for everyone?

RA: I don’t think so, if you find joy in it and or it brings some form of closure to you yes. Do I think reading poetry is for everyone? Yes, I think it is. I think understanding poetry is not for everyone, I think understanding it is for a poet themselves, one can always guess and wonder but you will never know their truth.

TQ: Where do you find your poetry?

RA: Instagram, The Strand, Reddit surprisingly on their Poetry Thread, Writing Thread, the Writing Prompts Thread. One of my favorite things to do is to go into a random bookstore and just pick two books there I have no context about and walk out with them. Sometimes the books will be flops and they will suck but sometimes I find some of my greatest treasures that way.

Poetry Night Info

I am going to give a plug for Poetry Night. Quote me on this, this is the BEST event on this campus that happens consistently. Also they have cookies, and those bring me life.

Poetry Night happens every second Tuesday of the month and every last Thursday of the month. This month’s Thursday is combined with an event with the Muslim Student Association, we are bringing in a poet, she’s doing a bunch of her own poems and a Q&A, and then we are jumping into Poetry Night Open Mic.