I graduated from Oberlin in 2004 with an independent major in Creative Writing for Social Change, which was a kind of interdisciplinary conversation among creative writing, history, and Comparative American Studies. I was interested then, as I am now, in poetry's political life - not as a translation of critical theory or history, but as a particular and distinct way of making meaning. I was looking to poetry's new vocabularies to change our common sense about how borders and bodies work, to address questions about what language can do.
I learned to walk in a Jewish-only settlement in Gaza and to talk in Jerusalem, until my family returned to the U.S. and I was raised as an American kid on the East Coast. Since my first year at Oberlin, though, I've been a Palestine solidarity activist; last year I worked on a campaign called "No Time to Celebrate: Jews Remember the Nakba," a project that recognized over 60 years of Palestinian dispossession and refused the assumption of a Jewish consensus in support of Israel. I write poetry to make some use of the vertigo I get from looking backward. I am interested in the problems of borders, nationalism, and home-making -- what can I make of the border spaces I inhabit? What new languages are spoken there?
Right after Oberlin, I spent a summer in Seattle making audio documentaries with Chana Joffe-Walt (OC '03) about queer-parented families; we called them Queerspawn Diaries. The problem we struggled with throughout - and what became the central question of the project - was the limited availability of language that could tell the stories of where we came from. We were interested in that lack: what did it force queer families to make up? What was the connection between making up words and making up kinship?
I moved back to my hometown of Philadelphia after that, where - among other things - I taught poetry and literature through local community arts organizations and served as assistant editor at American Poetry Review. I spent 2006-2007 working on my poetry in Philadelphia as a Pew Fellow in the Arts.
Now I'm an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Michigan, where I'm currently teaching creative writing to undergraduates. I am working on my first poetry manuscript, as well as a book of personal narrative essays in which autobiography is a lens for cultural analysis about Zionism. I've been honored and lucky to be supported in my work - even after leaving Oberlin -- by many Oberlin faculty members; by the Academy of American Poets, which awarded me prizes in 2004 and in 2009; by the Ragdale Foundation; and by the University of Michigan's creative writing program, which - in addition to supporting two years of writing - funded my trip to Palestine last summer so that I could continue to work on essays and poems about my own history there as I learned about current resistance movements.
As I continue to write and teach, I hope that my work can intervene in public conversations that are often circumscribed by muddle, jargon, and a sense of hopelessness; that I can project a voice that is by turns and in combination joyful, critical, and precise. I hope that my poems can be part of building vision and possibility among writers; and that my writing can also be a tool among activists as we seek vocabularies with which to articulate transformative visions. I hope that in making careful, passionate choices in my poetry, I am part of changing what Audre Lorde called "the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives."
[For more information or to contact Nava, visit www.netshalom.com.]
Troubling the Body Count
1 Out of Which a Noise Came
Nothing on television answered
in the series of questions: who was left
were they arranged? Who will reassemble
we have on file, boxed
Better not -
Did I conduct the electricity or just
a series of bodies pitted against mine.
or what the arc of consent was.
behind our breastbones.
The backs of whose knees hummed - I wanted
The last day.
Published in FIELD, #79, Fall 2008