Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 3 — Hazem Fahmy
The cover of Red Jild Prayer, by Hazem Fahmy

Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?

While I don’t think poetry has to be autobiographical, I do think that, as a medium and craft, it lends itself to the personal far more than other forms of writing, barring straightforward memoir work. Again, I don’t think every poet needs to abide by this notion, but it is much harder to step out of your identity and self in such an intimate craft. Given this belief of mine, I do expect my audience/readership to treat my work, even my most non-literal work, as a direct reflection of my lived experience.

What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too “intense” or “upsetting?”
Read someone else.

How do you feel about recent conversations about “literary success,” prize culture, personal brands, and the idea of “poetry business?” What are the best ways to support poets and poetry?

It’s a tough conversation. On the one hand, I’d love to simply ignore the (often arbitrary) mechanisms that elevate some writers while ignoring others, but the fact of the matter is, opportunity shapes accessibility, both of the writer and of their work to their readership. As such, we cannot afford to not pay attention to the “poetry business,” because that is the only way we’ll figure out how to dismantle its gatekeeping practices.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t feel like you need to “mine” traumas you may have experienced or that you need to conform to a specific narrative of your identity. I feel blessed to live in a time where the American literary scene is going through an unprecedented process of expansion and self-evaluation (still a long way to go, but I am grateful for where we are), and where identities and their intersections are steadily gaining more weight in the discourse. However, I am disturbed by the ways in which publishers and other gatekeepers often only publish work by marginalized groups if it affirms a narrative of pain, violence, and trauma. If the work you need to write does speak to pain, violence, and trauma you’ve experienced, then absolutely write it. But I’d advise emerging (as well as writers of all ages) to watch out for this subtle, but potentially sinister kind of obsession with making a spectacle out of suffering, which continues to be pervasive in American arts and media.

If writing has been a historical instrument of our collective undoing, how do we move forward as practitioner of that undoing? What is your work’s relationship to the idea of future making? What are your antagonisms to that idea? Is investing in futurity futile or fruitful? 

I wholeheartedly believe that investing in futurity is one of the most vital things an artist can do. While archiving and excavating are both essential as well, future-making allows us to break free from the deliberate limits that have been imposed on our political and personal imagination(s).



A photo of the author, an Egytian person with a beard in front of a purple wall, wearing red glasses and a striped shirtHAZEM FAHMY is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing his MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. His debut chapbook, Red//Jild//Prayer won the 2017 Diode Editions Contest. A Watering Hole Fellow, his poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Apogee, HEArt, Mizna, and The Offing. His performances have been featured on Button Poetry and Write About Now. He is a reader for the Shade Journal, a poetry editor for Voicemail Poems, and a contributing writer to Film Inquiry.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 3. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for this anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.