While developing his latest poetry collection, the aptly named Textu (text + haiku), Palestinian-American poet and physician Fady Joudah spent a lot of time on his smartphone. This ubiquitous device may seem like the enemy of good art, but Joudah explains his modern methodology in the book’s short introduction:
“All the poems here were composed on a cellular phone’s text message screen. The Textu poem has only one hard rule: that it be exactly 160 characters long, specific to text-message parameters.”
What resulted from this strategy is a compact, beautifully-ordered book of poems, each a short but profound meditation on one of life’s grand themes. In 95 small pages, Joudah explores everything from sex to death to exile, and somehow makes this self-imposed brevity his ally. Though they are short, the poems dredge up primal emotion: some border on funny; some are deeply sad; some conjure an indefinable longing. But each is self-contained and imbued with a kernel (or four) of wisdom. And each was written on a smartphone.
Joudah begins his book with Immune:
My heart isn’t another’s
love is no transplant
it can be
or when I’m dead
I will give you my eyes & also my liver
you must suppress their memory of me
And in a nod to the master (whom he has translated to English), Joudah includes a poem titled Darwish:
If olive trees knew the hands that had planted
olive oil would have turned to tears!
Our names our body parts
Joudah, who was born in Austin, Texas, to Palestinian refugee parents, works as an ER doctor in Houston, and is the author of two other poetry collections: Alight (2013), and The Earth in the Attic (2008), for which he won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. Textu can be purchased in either a pocket-sized paperback or as an ebook.