Challenging Standards: an Interview with Noor Hindi
Noor Hindi is an emerging poet with a beautiful, brand new chapbook just released: Diary of a Filthy Woman from Porkbelly Press. One of her poems originally appeared on Frontier last year, and we’ve been excited to follow her rise ever since. Recently, our editor Josh Roark and Noor Hindi got the chance to have a conversation over email about challenging family, about bodies and first books, faith and loneliness.
FP: The first question is pretty straightforward: where did this little thing come from? Did you set out to write a series of poems, was it a surprise, how did that choice come about?
Noor Hindi: The poems came about organically. I didn’t plan to write a small series. The earliest poems in the micro-chap are “Filthy Woman During the Fourth of July,” and “What Filthy Woman Inherited.” I felt inspired by a chapbook I’d read by Seema Yasmin, out by Diode Editions, titled “For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God.” That chapbook unlocked an entire world for me and I became interested in the idea of a filthy woman, especially within my Palestinian and Muslim upbringing. I wanted to write poems that challenged certain standards of womanhood. I wanted a character who could break the rules and subvert traditional ideas about beauty, desire, and faith. The first intentional poem I wrote for the series is “Hunger Drips from the Body of the Filthy Woman.” Once I wrote that poem and adopted the persona, the rest of the poems felt like they tumbled onto the page. It felt right, although, they did take me by surprise. But I think this ultimately speaks to the power of reading poetry and how certain poems and collections can liberate us.
FP: I love “Hunger Drips”—it makes total sense that it was the unlocking piece.
One thing that I admire about your poems is that you cannot remove speaker’s body from them. Nearly every single stanza of this poem has a body part highlighted, adored, abused—from teeth to hands to feet to ears and belly buttons and fists and eyelashes. Is that an intentional move on your part? Where does all this body imagery come from for you? How does it reflect your own relationship with your body?
NH: I think there’s all kinds of ways society tries to diminish and erase women’s bodies. Our bodies are supposed to look a certain way and comply with impossible standards. And women are often punished for not behaving or adhering to these standards. For this poem in particular, and the micro as a whole, I wanted to place the body at center and create a character who will not perform to these standards. And for me, I think I’ve always had a strange relationship with my body. Growing up, I was often labeled a “tomboy” for wanting to play with cars and trucks, for being as competitive as the boys in my neighborhood, for destroying the Barbies well-meaning family members would buy me for birthdays. So when I started writing poems about Filthy Woman, I wanted her to fully exist on the page with all of her unruliness and disobedience, her flaws and desires.
FP: So interesting. It’s like there’s this space beneath gender where the body lives vivid, filthy. Your speaker explores that really well.
And disobedience. The poems pitch obedience and desire against each other again and again, simultaneously a desire to obey and a desire to fight. It shows up a lot with your family. Particularly the end of “Filthy Woman Just Wants to Be Beautiful”:
There is violence in the way I hinge myself
to the back of her ironing board.
Make me smooth mama. Make me flat.
Could you talk about how family comes into this Filthy woman’s life? What’s her relationship to them? Or what does she want it to be?
NH: I think the tension between individuality/community and obedience/desire is a reality for many, especially for immigrant children who have to reconcile two cultures. And especially for anyone who has grown up in a faith based environment that is organized and does not allow room for originality or desire. And I think the poems in Filthy Woman really try to challenge these contradictions and reconcile with the shame that often arises within these environments. I recently read Kazim Ali’s Silver Road. He seems to talk about these pressures in a beautiful way, especially when he states, “My queerness does not make me a two-spirited person or make available to me any particular magic. It only reveals better that latent quality of loneliness or aloneness shared by any mortal thing. I have come to believe that this is what opened the door for me to poetry.” And I love this. The idea of poetry being a place where our contradictions can sit with each other, without judgement or shame. And the idea of poetry revealing the loneliness we all feel, because all of us face these tensions. I think this is why I came to poetry and why I continue to come into poetry.
FP: How does the milestone of getting this little book published make your loneliness feel? I’m genuinely curious—getting published is such a weird thing to pursue. To want to share the beautiful aloneness, it’s complicated.
NH: Like you said, it’s been weird. The micro-chap was accepted July of 2017. I started the NEOMFA program August of 2017. Since starting the program, my writing has changed. Stepping into the program has been overwhelming enough, but I also felt a lot of anxiety about having this published within my first year in the program. I feared looking back at this little book and hating the poems. A lot of people say that emerging writers should wait before sending work out and I feared I was rushing my work into the world. Maybe I could have waited for the “right time,” or waited until I was “ready” but when is anyone ever ready for anything? I don’t know if I’ve been “ready” for most milestones in my life, but I believe everything happens at the right time.
I also believe in this little project and these poems. The response I’ve received from those who’ve read the work has made me feel less alone in the subjects these poems grapple with. I hope the micro-chap continues to find people who need it. This is what makes the fear and anxiety around publication so worth it.
FP: Personally, I think you’ll be proud of these poems for a long time!
So what’s next for you? What would you say your path or plan or poetic mission is from this publication forward?
NH: Moving forward, I’m just focusing on getting the most out of my MFA program. I’ve been reading and writing more than I have ever have, and I’m looking forward to continuing this work for the next couple of years. There’s so much beautiful work out in the world, and I’m just soaking it in and seeing where my writing takes me.
Noor Hindi is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry through the NEOMFA program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Glass Poetry, Jet Fuel Review, Diode Poetry, Whiskey Island Magazine, Flock Literary Journal, and Foundry. She reads poetry for The University of Akron Press and writes for The Devil Strip Magazine. Check out her blog at noorhindi.com.