Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “Smoke in the distance…” time and language take on surprising physicality, almost becoming places of habitation, in lines such as “each language / was a place to rest” or “Just a few coins / meant you could enter a minute.” How did you develop these otherwise abstract concepts in this way?

Babo Kamel: Certainly during this administration, intolerance for non -English speakers has risen. I am acutely aware of language chauvinism and how it oppresses newcomers or people who feel more comfortable speaking in their native tongues. I do believe that language can provide a speaker with a sense of safety and of being at home.

In terms of coins buying time, I guess somehow that reflects an observation that complex ideas have become devalued and instead money begets influence. 

RR: We love the fragmentation in the images, even in the very first few couplets, which become strange and evocative through their juxtaposition. Do you have a specific process for creating unique and coordinating images? Was there one specific image that felt the most important or resonant as you wrote this poem?

BK: I don’t think that I have a specific process for creating images. Sometimes they just arrive, unbeckoned. At other times they hover in dreams. As for the “most important or resonant image,” I would say that all of them serve to support a sense of chaos and the surreal.

RR: We couldn’t help but wonder who Jonathan is. Is this name connected to a specific person you know?

BK: Jonathan just kind of knocked on the door of the poem. I have not met him anywhere else, but I liked his spirit and his willingness to put down the broom.

RR: References to “head of state” and being intentionally ignored evoke problems and injustices in the real world. Were these images influenced by specific current events or inequalities in society?

BK: Absolutely. So many injustices and injuries occur daily. This administration has been entirely tone -deaf to the needs of the poor, the working poor and the middle classes. Each day feels like an assault by the racists, misogynists, and homophobes, many who hold offices of power. 

RR: We noticed you’ve also written a series of poems inspired by Marc Chagall. Do you often use other works of art as inspiration for your poems? 

BK: Yes. I love the dialogue that can occur between two or more forms of artistic expression. I couldn’t get enough of Chagall when I was writing the series and I also have poems inspired by paintings of Edward Hopper, N. C. Wyeth, and by the works of other poets. My late father was a visual artist and in one of my poems I described that when I get close to one of his paintings his brushstrokes feel as intimate as breath. 

Babo Kamel’s work in Issue 7.2: 

Smoke in the distance is what’s left when the body cannot remember who it belongs to”