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A Beautiful New Collection of Poetry: the incense(d) heart

Maha’s experiences of love, of trauma, of heartbreak, of feeling colonized, and of reclaiming her heritage makes for both a deeply personal and relatable experience for the reader – and leaves us with a renewed sense of solidarity, understanding, and reflection of our own lives.

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Maha’s experiences of love, of trauma, of heartbreak, of feeling colonized, and of reclaiming her heritage makes for both a deeply personal and relatable experience for the reader – and leaves us with a renewed sense of solidarity, understanding, and reflection of our own lives.

Not too long ago, TMV was able to sit down with published author and poet Maha Zimmo on her first book of poetry, titled ‘rose-water syrup’. A beautifully written collection of poems, ‘rose-water syrup’ touched on subjects of femininity, colonization, immigrant experiences, love, and the author’s deep connection to Palestine. Written with an almost tangible scent of roses and laced with emotions of sadness, hope, love, and sometimes despair, each poem reached out with a million possible ways to connect with the reader.

Now Maha is back with her second book of poetry, titled ‘the incense(d) heart’, and TMV was able to sit down again with a few more questions – here they are in full below.


TMV: Salaam, and thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with TMV again! First things first, can you give a little background into who you are and what your own personal background is for those who don’t know you?

Maha: Salaam. It’s my absolute pleasure. I appreciate the work that your team does and the messages you’re spreading. Most especially at a time with Islam is oftentimes so wilfully misrepresented.

As for myself – I am of Palestinian roots, born in Libya (where my parents were working at the time), and immigrated to Canada aged 4. We’ve been here ever since. I am, above all other identity factors, and first and foremost, a Muslim woman.

So why poetry? Was it something you were always passionate about or did it grow out of an experience or life event?

If you had asked me six years ago if I could even *write* poetry, my answer would have been a flat no. Always, I’ve written long-form, and it was in 2016 that I began fidgeting with word structure away from my existing comfort zone. A quite garbage event presented itself and I didn’t wish to long-form my way out of the sadness of it. To my own surprise, I found my voice in tighter, and sharper lines that, I hope, continue to land heavy at the lips of readers.

Oddly, but related, I recently learned that over-explaining oneself is a trauma response. Which, I guess one could argue that the shorter and sharper poems are a sign of healing. And maybe my next step is to move fully away from writing from personal experiences, and instead begin looking into spaces of fiction. Maybe. InshAllah. Definitely, a shift has brewed this past year and I’m sort of letting what’s next show itself to me, rather than my trying to force it’s unearthing before it’s ready.

What are some of the themes that you cover in this book – and why these particular themes?

Heartbreak. Living in the diaspora. Being an immigrant on stolen, unceded territory. The colonized brain (my own). Systemic racism. Misogyny. Being a woman of colour (identifying as a womanist) who is so very White adjacent, and my privileges deriving therefrom. Islamophobia, and my own ebb and flow within Islam, though always unquestioningly rooted therein.

These are the themes that rule my life. And my writing, up until now, has always been a reflection of my personal experiences. I take very seriously the “write what you know” advice and have really bled out all over both of my poetry collections (and all long-form pieces I’ve penned).

Mostly, I write to understand myself. And I hope, inshAllah, that when others read me, they might equally find threads of their own worlds, a message that they’re never alone, and that they are always seen. InshAllah.

Why do you think poetry is so moving across borders, cultures, and experiences? What is so powerful about poetry?

The sharp and tight architecture I mention above. It gives people enough space to write themselves into the poetry.

In my opinion, rarely is excellent poetry fiction. And this authenticity is extremely seductive. Most especially in a time when everything around us is selling us the need to be seen in a very specific way – always happy. Always glowing up. Always influencing. Always being asked about what we do to *be* so…happy.

Excellent poetry should come in and make the audience uncomfortable. It should strip away all of the pretence, and should push people out of their comfort zones to face both their own sh*t, and how it might play out in this dunya.

What are some of the feelings and emotions you want the reader to leave with after reading “the incense(d) heart”?

It depends on who the reader is. The colour of their skin, the money, and the privilege they have. Their roots, gender, sexuality. Their political ideologies.

I want some to feel uncomfortable, to the point where they have to stop and reflect on their role in the systems built to service a few. Basically, I hope that my poems point out blind spots, and demand accountability.

I want others to feel loved, seen, and heard while living in systems built to their detriment.

Any words of advice for those who want to start writing poetry or explore the world of the written word? 

It is a cliche, but it is true – Just start writing. You have to just get to it, because practice makes perfect. Do your part, do it with love, care, and intention, and leave the rest with Allah. He’s got you, always.


Maha’s book of poetry, ‘the incense(d) heart’, is definitely a completely unique and hauntingly beautiful take on so many issues – love, pain, sadness, hope, resilience, and power are just some of the emotions that are so intricately laced throughout her poetry.

While some of the themes may be jarring or uncomfortable for the average reader, it only proves just how important poetry like Maha’s really is. The need to explore, validate, and understand the many emotions that make up the experience of what it means to not just be a human being but a woman specifically is essential for us all – and ‘the incense(d) heart’ is a deeply intricate look into these very emotions.

“occupied and colonized
the song of my heart-country.

it is
that gentle echo of bell
the note of her charm(ed) bracelet
a moving Brown hand

to rearrange
reimagine
rearticulate
already perfect rose-water skin
beneath veils of silk
tau(gh)t
that as is
is too full.

– the shrinking | for the comfort of White gaze”

Writing these poems as a Muslim woman, with the deeply layered emotions and experiences that any woman will go through in her life with similar identities makes it such a powerful read, and an essential one as well.

Maha’s experiences of love, of trauma, of heartbreak, of feeling colonized, and of reclaiming her heritage makes for both a deeply personal and relatable experience for the reader – and leaves us with a renewed sense of solidarity, understanding, and reflection of our own lives.

“trusting
that people will do the wrong thing
for all of the right reasons.

– salvation | how to keep the softness i”

With the many different identities that we all juggle with and the many different experiences that we all survive through in such a complicated world, Maha’s poems seem to fade away the layers of excuses and complications that we paint over the world with and instead invites us to re-look at the life we live as flawed, beautiful human beings.

“be careful what you look for
in case
you see what isn’t there
just to prove you were right
to look for it in the first place.

because always
it is better
that your trust is shattered
than
your suspicions
proven false.

– how to keep the softness ii”

Maha’s published works, including ‘the incense(d) heart’ and her first book of poetry ‘rose-water syrup’, can be found here.

Be sure to follow her work on her Instagram here as well!

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