Poetry and the Sea

I’m back! In my last post, I talked about my first encounter with the poet I studied this summer, Nada Skaff. What I didn’t get to discuss was the day we spent together on the Amalfi Coast.

My second day in Italy, I woke up a little later than usual exhausted from my flight and lack of sleep (definitely caused by the adrenaline from being in such an amazing country). Once awake, I quickly got ready and called Nada. She came over to my hotel and we went to do the thing Italians do best: drink coffee. At the Caffè del Professore, I savoured my first-ever affogato; espresso with gelato. The warm hazelnut flavor rounded out the pungent flavor of the coffee and enlivened each of my senses.

Upon finishing the last sip, we walked over to meet Giuglio, one of Nada’s closest friends in Italy and a teacher of philosophy. As was becoming a trend, I found myself with an Italian who only spoke Italian. This, however, was quickly becoming an exciting obstacle for me and to add to this excitement, Nada turns to me and asks “Est-ce que tu veux aller à Naples ou à la côte amalfitaine?” I didn’t even think the Amalfi Coast would be a place I would have the chance to get to and tried my hardest to conceal my giddy excitement. Without hesitation, I blurted “allons à la côte amalfitaine!”

As we turned onto Amalfi Drive, the views changed drastically and I thought I was in a different world. The glistening salty seas reflected a brilliant light giving the quaint homes on the stretch of hills and cliffs a heavenly aura. It was better than I could have imagined. I meet an artisan who gave me a handcrafted owl that would allow me to carry the “spirit of Italy wherever I went,” bought beautiful ceramic plates displaying the Amalfian lemon, and meet the maker of a great selection of limoncellos.

We sat down to grab a quick bite and so that I could continue my interview with Nada. As we sat there discussing poetic theory, her favorite formative tests, personal anecdotes and allegories, and the history of the Lebanese Civil War, I felt as if I were living in a different dimension. I couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the ocean pursuing this incredible project! We sat there without a care for time discussing in French and occasionally in Italian when Giuglio contributed a game-changing piece of his own interpretations of our conversations. Having a professor of philosophy by your side can really come in handy!

It was late in the afternoon when we left to get back to Nada’s house. She was adamant about cooking dinner for me and I was excited to share a meal with her family. As the Arabic saying goes “sar fi baynatna khebiz wa mileh” (there is now bread and salt between us). The implication is when people share a meal, the have shared one of the deepest experiences that can be realized on Earth. In a way, this is exactly what poetry does!

Nada graciously gave me a tour of her house. I got to see her library filled with Lebanese francophone texts (which served me well for my research) and her fascination with trees was physically realized by the paintings and sculptures of branches that filled the nooks and crannies of her home. I then got to meet her kids Anna Sara and Enzo and learn all about their varied interests and hear and about Nada as a mother.

Over dinner, the exquisite dishes we accompanied by even more conversation, laughter, and jokes! Not only was Nada a phenomenal poet, but she knew her way around the kitchen. Her handmade tortellini, zesty spinach tart, juicy rabbit, and homemade tiramisu were in a completely different league. The poetic imaginaries of family life I read in Skaff’s book were now being realized in the physical world! For the first time, I could nourish my poetic readings with the poetry’s real-life manifestations.

The day I spent with Nada is a day I won’t forget for a lifetime and I am so moved to give her work another voice through my work!




  1. anhenshaw says:

    Wow, this sounds like a really amazing experience. It must be so exciting to have met the real author behind the poetry that you have loved and studied. I would imagine that it might even add more to the experience of reading the poetry now, having met the author and been able to converse with her. I love how you describe the experience too. I get a sense of your wonder and excitement through your writing, and it makes me want to head off to Italy also! It really does sound like a dream, congratulations on being able to accomplish and experience this!