10 Questions for Seif Eldeine

Blogger: 
Katherine Keenan

“. . .No one thinks this is enough to get the blood out.

No one sleeps to the sounds of bombs.[ . .]

No one shares the bed with his sisters and brothers.. . ."

— from “No One and Syria’s Struggle to Sleep” which  appears in the Summer 2017 issue (Volume 58, Issue 2)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written.
In my elementary school, I was lucky enough that they forced us to write a poetry anthology every year. The first work I wrote was a rhyming piece about a local radio station. I was so excited to turn it in, but when I got it back, that excitement didn’t last. I remember my grade from that one poem being lower than almost all my other grades that year. It turned me off poetry for a long time, though I continued to love writing for my English and History classes. It wasn’t until I was a Junior in high school that I re-discovered my love for poetry.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I owe a lot of the influence for the poem published in the Massachusetts Review and my poetry about Syria published elsewhere to The Writer Studio online classes. One teacher, Peter Krass, encouraged me to focus my writing energies on the Syrian Civil War. We decided together that the work of Philip Levine and Larry Levis would be the two most appropriate inspirations for the book. While “No One and Syria’s Struggle to Sleep” veers off from the narrative that pre-dominates most of the book, I do think it contains the sense of grittiness and rawness that is evident in both Levine’s and Levis’s work.

Other poets I draw inspiration from were e.e. cummings, his play with the line and also the idea of line as breath from Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse.” The line and its use contains so much potential for creativity and the semblance of the line contains insight into the narrator’s state.

Line play is evident also in my second book project that I am writing under the pen name “Dean Allan.” That project takes inspiration from the intensity and brevity of Dickinson, the playfulness in line of Cummings again and the raw, dark emotional output of Plath and Poe.

What other professions have you worked in?
Currently, I treat people with major depressive disorder as a technician for a machine that uses magnets. Even poetry does not give me the same joy as making sad people happy. My job also gives me insight for my second book because I have been on the right combination of medications and self-care for so long, I often forget what it is like to be depressed.

What did you want to be when you were young?
Everything. Still do want to be everything. Baseball player, basketball player, psychiatrist, Olympic Runner. The very first thing I wanted to do was work with penguins in Antarctica, which led to my love of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. However, I was seventeen when I knew I had to be a poet, when I read the line “pardon the egg stains, but I’m in love,” in Billy Collins’s “Marginalia.”

What inspired you to write this piece?
The line "no one does not recognize his neighbor from his facelessness" was originally a line in another poem and Peter Krass, the teacher at the Writer Studio, liked the line so much that he encouraged me to take it out of the poem and expand on it more in another poem.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My experiences in Syria, my father’s homeland, a place I have visited many times, led me to begin my first major project as a poet. I hope to capture a part of what made Syria unique pre-war and also capture the effects and strains of war on social relationships. These bonds do still exist and can be nurtured or destroyed during the tough times the Syrian people have endured. Mostly, I did not want this project to be a book about “war,” I wanted this project to be a book about people who are enduring a war.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
The Writer Studio taught me the power of imitation. I’ll often look at contemporary narrative poetry when writing my book about Syria.

When I work on my second book project, I’ll take words from three or four different poets and put them together in a list and try to make a poem from that list. By the final draft, there might be only a few words from the original list that survive, but it helps me get started. Plath, Neruda and Poe are the poets I most often turn to for their vocabulary. Something about the language they use strikes me harder than anyone else’s language.

Finally, when I find myself really stuck, I’ll turn to the exercises in the Poet’s Companion, Triggering Town or some other exercises I find online.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
It used to be the Writer Studio teachers and their workshop participants. Now, I often draw inspiration from people I know personally, though, while specific details will remain the same, the characters are greatly altered by the end of the editing process. Any time I write a character I drew from a family member, friend or acquaintance, they will get the first read. Most often, however, it is the magazines and journals who get the first read.

What are you working on currently?
I am working on a book about my struggle with bipolar and depression that is partly fictionalized, my book on Syria, less often on pieces about Massachusetts (my home state and the inspiration for my third project), even less often on love poems and other miscellaneous subjects and least often outlining an epic poem I plan to write in the distant future about the New England Patriots dynasty. I am willing to collaborate on any of these projects!

What are you reading right now?
Other than reading magazines for an idea of what work they publish, I have been reading about the stock market. I hope to make enough money off the stock market to rejoin the classes at the Writer Studio, finally get out of my parents’ basement and buy a house. My financial advisor and my brother (who used to be a stockbroker) help me out with my financial decisions. I am also surprisingly, as I gain experience, finding the stock market to be a lot like writing poetry. Building a portfolio is a lot like building a book, individual stocks have to work within a whole and need to be analyzed outside a purely number based perspective. Not every sonnet is as good as the next, no matter if it contains iambic pentameter, the right rhyme scheme and fourteen lines, just like a stock with the same discounted cash flow, payout ratio or P/E ratio is not the same quality as another stock with the same characteristics.

Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 2) here to read Seif Eldeine’s piece “No One and Syria’s Struggle to Sleep”


SEIF ELDEINE is an Arab-American poet living outside Worcester, MA, with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Tufts University. He is currently working on a book on the Syrian Civil War. He attended Colrain Manuscript Conference and has worked published in Star 82 Review and Vayavya, among others.