Hold It All


Category: Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

What I Can Use: Notes on Waldman and Birman’s Civil Disobediences

“Emerson was not a systematic reader, but he had a genius for skimming and a comprehensive system for taking notes…. He read rapidly, looking for what he could use.” p. 67

“He read widely in every field that interested him and he was always pushing into new fields. He read, as he wrote, rapidly. He read actively, as a writer does, looking for what he could use.” p. 99

“Not only must one have the courage to appropriate freely whatever one recognizes as one’s own, one must have the much greater courage to resist and refuse everything that is not one’s own material.” 174

—Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire


29 January 2016 Notes from Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman, eds., Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action

This work is helpful for re-looking at Dear Layla, ideas for classes, stimulus to various practices.

Dear Layla is, literally, specifically, “an essay.”  [What is his genre? —- “Treatise, memoir, travelogue, elegy, novel, dance of the dead… the books seem built of elements of all of these and of none.”  —Hunt, on Sebald, 394]

Dear Layla —“Sentiment at realizing you’ve arrived at the thing that will penetrate through  your own core to other people’s core, and do it through the real world. Describing the real world in such a way as to find the pattern of the real world.” —Ginsberg,  265

Dear Layla —“Writers and intellectuals bear great responsibility for this because if one gives up the right to narrate or intervene, both at home and in other parts of the world, that vacuum will be filled by the discourses of ‘experts.’” —Alcalay, 451

Dear Layla —“Invoke Investigative and Documentary Poetics. Know the score! Know the history!”  —Waldman, 329 Read the rest of this entry »


Thanks, Jack

I first read this in August 2005, a seed
Dear Layla came out in 2015, fruit

That is why I want to use short chapters, each with verselike heading, and very many such chapters; slowly, deeply, moodily unfolding the moody story and its long outreaching voyage into strange space. And to run up a pace of such short chapters till they are like a string of pearls. Not a river-like novel; but a novel like poetry, or rather, a narrative poem, an epos in mosaic, a Kind of Arabesque preoccupation…free to wander from the laws of the “novel” as laid down by Austens and Fieldings into an area of greater spiritual pith (which cannot be reached without this technical device, for me, anyway) where the Wm. Blakes and Melvilles and even spotty, short-chaptered Celine, dwell.

Jack Kerouac, Windblown World:Journals 1947-1951, edited by Douglas Brinkley

Reading Leads to Writing


Yesterday I was rereading Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s After-Dinner Declarations, which I first read in 2013, and came across this page with my scribbles:


In Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, these scribbles became this chapter:

Postcard from Gaza/1

Dear Layla

I’d rather be preoccupied with your daily routine
Than be occupied with this occupation
At least for ten minutes

Write me when you have a second
Tell me the names of the bones I use
In the process of writing you this postcard

Doc Schimmel

Note to Cami on Reznikoff

I read Reznikoff in summer of 2010
As much as I could find

Used, at Amazon
By him, about him

I like his spare style
That was the year

I was generating a piece a day
For my project that later

Became Dear Layla
So he influenced me

Toward that spareness
Most chapters very short

To the point
Like the one on p. 123

Reading influences writing!



Arundhati Roy: The Right To Be Sentimental

Right around the time in spring 2012 I finished Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine for Nima Sheth on the occasion of her graduation from medical school, I came across a book of interviews with Arundhati Roy, and particularly appreciated the following:

I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. But I’m not here to say what people want to hear. 61

Failure attracts my curiosity as a writer. Loss, grief, brokenness, failure, the ability to find happiness in the saddest things—these are the things that interest me. 75 Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Hummus and Hospitality

My friend Lindsey Weston sent me this letter in November of last year.  I am happy to share it with you.

lindsey-w1 Read the rest of this entry »

A Key to Understanding the Table of Contents to “Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine” from Our Friend Fellini

Do you like stories in which nothing happens, too?
Well, in my film everything happens … OK?
I’m putting everything in … Even the Sailor doing a tap dance.

–8 1/2


Can’t Wait for the USPS by Rob Trousdale (The Joy is Reciprocal)

A Response to a Letter from 4514 Chouteau Avenue


How many times can one read the same 4 sentences?
14 and counting, I guess

Your lines on Chomsky’s fire for linguistics

Him, just diggin’ it
Finding pleasure in the wonders of being a scientist

Sparked a memory
An interview read in college

Chomsky, hunched over his computer, lamenting

I haven’t done enough
I haven’t done enough

Chomsky, the avatar for so many
Needing a reminder, himself
Needing to read those lines in This is the Truth Read the rest of this entry »

I Wrote It for You All

June 24, 2015


I gave you, yes, you, and no one else, a copy of my magnum opus three years and a month ago.

My novel is due out next week and I want to say something about the dedication page.

Well, I’ve already started by trying to connect you and Zeina. The page reads:

For Lubna Alam, Zeina Kiblawi, Layla Lavasani, and Anjali Oza
Who sparked the beginning
And for Magan Wiles
Who saw it through to the end Read the rest of this entry »

Safa and the Marine Face to Face in the Parking Lot (Ahimsa/2)

Dear Professor
You asked how things are going in grad school
Here’s today’s highlight—

Before going to class today
I stopped at Starbucks to get a latte
As I was walking back to my car
An SUV pulled up to me
A young man with a crew cut popped his head out the window
And said in a loud voice
‘I survived Fallujah
Only to come back home—‘
He stuck his arm out the window and pointed at me
His voice increasingly tense—
‘To see my country filled with terrorists like you!’

So what if he was probably a foot taller than me
And weighed 100 pounds more than me
I stopped and looked at him
And used that teaching you passed on:
‘Just like me, he wants to be happy
He doesn’t want to suffer’
I repeated that in my mind
As I looked at him for ten seconds
His jaw began to unclench
And before I turned to get into my car I said slowly
‘I hope you have a good day’


–from the novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine