An evening of poetry with George Abraham 

On Saturday, May 4, Lawrence’s Pan-Asian Organization (PAO) and the Diversity & Intercultural Center (D&IC) hosted the Palestinian-American and queer poet George Abraham. Abraham’s work operates from a deeply intersectional perspective: decentralizing Western queerness, imagining Palestinian futurity and weaving images of their Floridian upbringing.   

One of my favorite poems of theirs, “Unarcheology of ‘Father,’” troubles the construction of the “closet” and “coming out” in the same gesture as describing their historical trauma: “I quieted the impossible wound of my body, / Baba. I held your hand while you were dying, / Half-asleep. I let you float off, / Unknowing.” Abraham here parallels their father’s death with their queer identity, as both occupy simultaneously tangible yet abstract planes; in that same token, the “impossible wound” of diasporic violence bridges them. In their verse, they construct an utterly singular voice that beckons readers to investigate their own sociopolitical  and intersubjective positions.   

For the undoubtedly subjugated and personal nature of their work, Abraham is nothing less than a charismatic luminary. Indeed, throughout the night, they represented the very transitive state they poeticized: both brimming with gratitude and ruminating in trauma. Their self-described “vibe-sy” approach to creativity wove lecture on form, question-and-answer and casual conversation in a non-linear affair.  

Ekphrastic poetry held a dear place in Abraham’s heart; ekphrasis, meaning description in Greek, seeks to derive verse and lyric from physical media. In their words, this methodology “hijacks and butchers” canonic works to craft new, subaltern meanings.  

One example of such was their blackout approach to the Balfour Declaration, which established Israel as the national home of the Jewish people while also calling for the protection of the land’s indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants. Abraham’s reinvention of the declaration into an exploration of liminal identity — caught between cathartic repetitions of “home,” “pain” and “pleasure” — left me and several audience members speechless. 

Because Abraham’s work sprouted from this in-between plane, stylistically, it utilized an almost Sisyphean repetition. They spun boulders and thickets of stanzas up mountains of allusions, only resolved upon the gravity of echoing the first line. With their elaboration on the Balfour Declaration, they coined works like these “cyclic sonnets”: they truncated violence out of a desire to bear witness to the inaccessible violence of their homeland. 

In their breath, body language and percussion, Abraham somatically projected their blazon, unafraid to confront institutional oppression through unabashed individuality. This practice — of marginality and of repetition — culminated as we discussed non-Western notions of time in spirals, fugue states and reifications. Abraham held space for cyclicality, yet also vaguely admits “it’s never the same,” understanding the self as an agent amidst turbulent contexts. 

While it is easy to mask the night entirely in these invigorating conversations of coloniality and revolution, we held space for the lighter, more present moments. We sat in a circle, comfortable on the boundless couches in the D&IC, fawned over the Greek food PAO ordered from Josef’s and discussed the Lawrence busy alongside the new Ariana Grande album. Again, I reiterate the shifting and fluxing nature of the night: we touched on many bases, both quotidian and political — much like poetry itself. 

This reading served as the kick-off to PAO and D&IC’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. More information, events and potlucks can be found on posters across campus as well as their Instagram: @lupanasianorg. The work that both of these fantastic organizations do is imperative in fostering campus solidarity.