The Arts

A Poet Writing Loudly

What’s it like to be Afghan and Kurdish in the U.S.? Read Hajjar Baban ’20.

Hajjar Baban

Baban explores themes of family, God, and nation. M. Stan Reaves/Shutterstock

Hajjar Baban ’20 is one of America’s rising young poets. A graduate of the UW’s First Wave hip-hop arts program, she’s published two chapbooks, Relative to Blood and What I Know of the Mountains. She was also the 2017 Youth Poet Laureate for Detroit — and runner-up for the title of National Youth Poet Laureate. (She came in behind Amanda Gorman, who recited her work at President Joseph Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.) Baban is now studying for her MFA at the University of Virginia and received a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

What is it about poetry that appeals to you?

In terms of art, you can say something through a painting, or you can say something through a sculpture. But in a poem, you’re saying it loudly. You’re leaving only as much room for interpretation as you choose. I love that, in a poem, I can really say, “This is about nothing else than what it’s about.” And I can also run to abstraction when I want to. I like to have choices.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a poet?

This is a hard question to answer, because I don’t think that I just woke up and said, “I want to be a poet.” Before I began formally writing on the page, I had a vision or an eye for things that sound good or look good or make sense to me. And the idea of translating one’s own feelings and memory — that always existed. Once I started writing, I didn’t stop, and I think that’s when I was 14 or 15.

How did you get involved with the National Youth Poet Laureate program?

First I have to talk about the nonprofit writing organization that I was part of all throughout high school. I would go there weekly because my school in Dearborn [Michigan] didn’t have any creative writing classes or afterschool things. I was involved with the InsideOut Literary Arts project, and they had a flagship program called Citywide Poets. The administrators and writers and residents nominated me [as a National Youth Laureate Poet] when I was a freshman in college.

Did you watch Amanda Gorman?

I did, yeah. I thought it was great. I think a great thing about poetry is that it really doesn’t matter what angle people are taking. It can, in some way, impact others to want to read and feel like they’re a part of something. That’s exactly what she did.

What’s next for you?

I am working on a full-length collection right now, in between a few projects in different realms and forms of poetry. But I think that that would be my next step, while I’m still in grad school. Postgrad, I really want to work on a creative writing fellowship while working on another book. And then maybe I’ll teach.

What will your poems be about?

I don’t want to declare what it is until it is. But like most of my work, it combines exploring my identities as Afghan and as Kurdish while living in America and exploring themes of family and God and nation as I usually do.

Published in the Fall 2021 issue


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