Poetry reading with Mohammed El-Kurd


Mohammed El-Kurd talking with Rose Ottallah, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine. Photo provided by Cassandra Jaskiewicz.

Poet Mohammed El-Kurd did a reading of his work on Sept. 14 at the University Center on campus. This event offered food and beverages and a chance to enjoy poetry with new people.

Organized by the University of New Orleans’ Young Poet Society with president Dhuha Darweesh and Vice President Lilly Zwank, the event had help from the “Students for Justice in Palestine.”

Mohammed El-Kurd is a Palestinian poet, but some may be more familiar with him from the award-winning documentary “My Neighborhood”, which he starred in when he was 11 years old. The documentary shows what happened to El-Kurd when Israeli settlers took over part of his family’s home an East Jerusalem neighborhood, resulting in protests by many Palestinian and Israeli activists.

Currently, he attends the Savannah College of Art and Design in the United States. He is a staff writer for Fallujah Magazine and has been published such places as Medium and The Guardian. His poetry addresses a wide range of topics from Islamophobia, gender politics and the many complexities that are tied to a Palestinian identity. He is working towards his first book, a collection of his poetry titled RIFQA, after his grandmother.

Members of The Young Poet Society read some of their poetry to start off. This demonstrated the talent at the University of New Orleans campus. The President and Vice-President of The Young Poet Society, and their Public Relations Officer, as well as the President of Students for Justice in Palestine, Rose Ottallah, read poems that they had written for the event.Then El-Kurd took center stage.

El-Kurd read some his most popular poems: “This is Why We Dance”, “Figs Bitch” and then pieces like “America For Me” and “War Machines and Drag Queens,” performed for the first time in front of an audience.

He contextualized each poem, providing insight into what inspired him to write, his thought process, and what made it important to him. El-Kurd described himself as a “reactionary poet” and a lot of his work showcases his response to the events he has lived through, witnessed or was told about.

After he finished reading his work, the audience was allowed to ask questions about his poetry, his life, and his beliefs.

Kathleen Mendoza, a sophomore at the University of New Orleans and the Public Relations officer for the Young Poets Society, described organizing the event and securing a speaker like Mohammed El-Kurd.

“Well, surprisingly from hearing from Dhuha [the president of The Young Poets Society] she said it was a really easy process! He was really open about contacting us,” Mendoza explained.

“She DMd [direct messaged] and told him that she had been following up with his work for a while. So it was very surprising that he was so friendly. He told us his pricing, that he would need some place to stay somewhere and things like that.”

The members of the Young Poet Society are very serious about choosing their featured poets, looking at message, meaning and beliefs to see if a poet is the right fit for them. Popularity doesn’t mean everything.

“Dhuha wants people who definitely represent us and the University and what we believe. So she wouldn’t really go for someone just because they are popular or things like that. She genuinely wants people who have good message behind their work,” Mendoza said.

The Young Poet Society hopes to make these kinds of poetry readings a yearly or even bi-yearly events. However, the funding and planning of the event was collaborative effort between Diversity Affairs, Students for Justice in Palestine and themselves.

“We had done a fundraiser earlier last year, a snowball event….so we were able to afford it. As well we knew that it was a Palestinian poet, [so] we contacted Students for Justice in Palestine…we had lot of people help–it wasn’t just us.” She said.

Everyone seemed very pleased with the turn out. “We were kind of iffy!” Mendoza said, “We weren’t sure if many people would want to come and listen to a poet they might not know! It was definitely better than what we expected!”

If students want to keep up with El-Kurd and his works his Twitter handle is _MohammedElKurd and his book is should be published sometime this year. If you want to keep up with the events that the Young Poets Society is planning they hold meetings every Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in the University Center’s Gallery and all are welcome to attend.