Heart of a Reporter

November 9, 2021


Poetry Off the Shelf: Heart of a Reporter


Helena de Groot: This is Poetry Off the Shelf. I’m Helena de Groot. Today, Heart of a Reporter. Noor Hindi is a poet and a reporter. As you probably know, there are very few stable, solid jobs in journalism anymore. Every week it seems like another local paper or news organization is shutting down. Just three weeks ago, the paper where Noor Hindi worked for years, The Devil’s Strip, a beloved community newspaper from Akron, Ohio, closed shop, no explanation given. For Hindi, this sense of precarity is made worse by what she sees on the job every day. She works now with the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting as an evictions and tenants’ rights reporter. With the pandemic, as you can probably imagine, her beat has become brutal. And recently, when she had to find a new place to live, she experienced the housing crisis first-hand. None of the landlords seemed to want her, her roommates, or her cat. But then, her luck changed. The Poetry Foundation awarded Noor Hindi, together with four other young poets, this year’s Lilly-Rosenberg Fellowship. The honor, not to mention the almost $26,000 cash prize, could not have come at a better time.


Noor Hindi: So I actually bought a house that we’ve been—


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Helena de Groot: That is spectacular news! Congratulations.


Noor Hindi: Yeah! And so I just ended up putting that money as a down payment on a house and we’ve been renovating. So this has been—we just settled like, today.


Helena de Groot: Wow.


Noor Hindi: Literally today. Yeah. So we have couches coming in next week and then after that, everything is good.


Helena de Groot: And so how does it feel, home ownership, or has it not yet sunk in?


Noor Hindi: I don’t know. It’s been really, really strange. I’ve thought about the idea of home for a long time. I feel like it’s been an anchor in my work and … I grew up in, like, government housing and, you know, I didn’t have much of like a stable upbringing all the way. And then there is all the ways that, I don’t know, does this mean as an immigrant, I’ve made it? I don’t know what the feeling is yet. I haven’t defined it. I need to do more writing about it. But I was laughing because when I saw the house for the first time, I realized that it had a white picket fence.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS LIGHTLY)

Noor Hindi: And it really felt like this really ironic, terrible joke.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, totally.


Noor Hindi: And so, you know, I put an offer on this house without having seen it in person.


Helena de Groot: Wow.


Noor Hindi: My friend saw it for me. This is how I make decisions.


Helena de Groot: That is a good friendship, that you trust your friend this much. (LAUGHS) Or not, you know, you’re gonna discover!


Noor Hindi: (LAUGHS) It was someone I knew for like, a month.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: I don’t know. I don’t know if you’d call it reckless. I am a very spiritual person and I believe things come into place. And so, yeah, there is a white picket fence. I don’t know what my feelings about it yet are.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, like when does the irony start wearing off and when is it just your life?


Noor Hindi: I know. I don’t know.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. You said that you grew up in Section 8 housing. Was there any point in your life growing up or, you know, as an adult where you could see yourself—like, was that part of your horizon of expectations that one day you would own a home?


Noor Hindi: I don’t think so. Maybe. No, I don’t think so, because the idea of the future was very, very distant in a lot of ways. I think the idea of home ownership came with the idea of marriage, which, as I grew and embraced my queerness more, became really … lost, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: So I didn’t … I didn’t ever imagine a home. I think I imagined it like, on a maybe subconscious level as something that might possibly happen, but there wasn’t this idea of like, this is what my marriage is going to look like or this is what my house is going to look like.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: So, okay, speaking of home, when I moved, I moved to Dearborn without ever having been in it. I took this job without ever having been in the city. My decision making in the last six months has been very—you know, I was very stagnant during the pandemic and before, and I felt stuck for so long, and … I went to this writing retreat in March. I realized that I had all this pressure on me. And by June, it was like, you know, like you take a bottle and you shake it up and then you open it like, that’s how I felt, and it was just like the job happened and then the city happened and the house happened and ... And it feels—I’m not saying that in a panicked way, I feel very, like, actually happy with it all.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: Because typically I overthink. And typically I’m very, very fearful, and it’s been nice to move in a positive direction. But also, all of the decisions so far have been excellent. (LAUGHS) Because, you know, Dearborn has the largest Arab-American concentration in the US, right?

Helena de Groot: Oh, I didn’t know that. Okay.

Noor Hindi: Huge, huge population. And I didn’t grow up around an Arab community. And this is the first time that I’m in a space with young Arabs and people of color who are also queer. And walking through these streets was like being home or some semblance of what a home might mean in America.

Helena de Groot: Yeah.

Noor Hindi: I remember being at this restaurant the first night we were in Dearborn and we walked in and of course, when we were walking through the streets, it was like … it was like walking in Amman again, right? It was beautiful. And I went in this restaurant with my cousin and the woman was asking us if we wanted to be seated. And she said it in Arabic, assuming that we knew Arabic. And I probably looked like this dumb, white American who was only English-speaking, because I did a doubletake.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)

Noor Hindi: And, like, I heard what she was saying, but I wasn’t registering that the language was being spoken outside of my home.

Helena de Groot: Right, right! Like, this is an actual language people use. This is not just my private family, you know—


Noor Hindi: Yeah! I almost felt like a little bit of an intrusion, right? Like this is, this is against the rules of how I interact with the world typically. And there was awkward silence. And then she looked at me and she said, “Do you speak Arabic?” And I said, “Oh! Yeah, I do.” (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Do you feel like it was almost too intimate or something?


Noor Hindi: It was really intimate. And settling into it was weird. It took me—I still, I still go to the grocery stores here and feel weird, you know?


Helena de Groot: Because it’s so familiar. You’re like, I’m not used to feeling this at home somewhere.


Noor Hindi: Yes! It’s so weird. It’s so weird. Like, I walk in the grocery stores and I hear my language, and I still feel like this shouldn’t be happening, right?

Helena de Groot: Yeah!


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Like somehow you had gotten used to thinking that feeling alienated was just how things were. Or like, were going to be for you, you know?

Noor Hindi: And that was sort of a home. (LAUGHS)

Helena de Groot: And it was sort of a home, but that’s it, right?

Noor Hindi: Yeah.

Helena de Groot: Like, now, you have to ... do you feel like you have to strip down some of your defensiveness towards the world?


Noor Hindi: Yes.


Helena de Groot: What does it show up in? Like, what is an example where you feel like, “Oh, I’m usually a little bit more like, you know, suspicious or guarded, and now I suppose I don’t have to be.”


Noor Hindi: I think it shows in my body language. I think I am so much more likely to smile in public now. (LAUGHS)

Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: It’s a weird sense of safety.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: I got so tired of arguing, frankly, with white people before I left Ohio. It was like this constant state of defensiveness and argumentativeness and ... I just became very hypersensitive. And maybe sensitive is not the right word. It’s not ... I wasn’t being sensitive, it was just, I was seeing these systems and these structures play out in every single interaction. And here, it’s a little bit more toned down. I was actually thinking about the idea of community today, because there’s these acts of generosity that snap me back into my community and back into, like, almost a healthy connection to the world and the spaces around me.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Rather than operating on my own, as we’re so used to as Americans. Like, we were moving in and my dad was helping me move in here, and our neighbor is Iraqi. And he stopped over and he was helping us move in and, you know, we didn’t ask him to. It was just, he just grabbed this box mattress and just started lugging it up the house, you know, no one needs an invitation.


Helena de Groot: Yes.


Noor Hindi: That can become annoying sometimes. But it was also like, we needed help, frankly.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: That shit was heavy. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: How did your dad react? Because it must also be really interesting for him, right, to see his daughter move into a neighborhood that, if it feels like home for you, it must for him too, right?


Noor Hindi: Oh, it was so funny. We went to Home Depot, which is like, you know, Dad’s mecca.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: And the one in Dearborn, they have all the signs written in Arabic. And he was like, losing it in this Home Depot.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHING)


Noor Hindi: Like, “Do you see?” He was like reading it in Arabic like he was reading Arabic for the first time. And I kept trying to tell them, you know, like, “This place, like, you have to come like, it’s so weird to me, I feel really good, but it also feels really strange.” And they didn’t get it. They didn’t get it until, like, they came here and they were like, “Where are we and how is this ...” So it’s been a weird, weird four or five months, to say the least, but it’s been really good things. When I say I’m overwhelmed, it’s not negatively overwhelmed. It’s more of a, I see a future for the first time in a long time, because there was a really burnt out, depressing moment where, you know, I mean, things are still bleak in a lot of ways, but there are some better personal protections and like a space now.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: So yeah.


Helena de Groot: And it’s so important to have, like, a home base, a stable place from where you can do all this tough work, you know what I mean? And interact with the injustices and inequalities of the world, you know? If you’re struggling yourself all the time, I don’t know how you can keep coping with taking in so much suffering from others. I don’t know.


Noor Hindi: Yeah. I think it’s … you know, in those moments, it’s the community that holds you. But, I will say that my abilities to cope wore down.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. And I mean, you took a really complicated beat, right? I mean, like if you’re an evictions reporter, like, I mean, the pandemic must have just—


Noor Hindi: (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: I don’t even know how to describe—can you describe what happened? So you were already an evictions and tenants’ rights reporter before the pandemic, right?

Noor Hindi: No.

Helena de Groot: Oh!

Noor Hindi: Okay, let me tell you.

Helena de Groot: Please.


Noor Hindi: Oh man, this is a mess. So, I was reporting for the magazine for a while.


Helena de Groot: That’s The Devil’s Strip, right?


Noor Hindi: Yeah. Which ...


Helena de Groot: Just closed.


Noor Hindi: Just closed. Thank you for—


Helena de Groot: Yes.


Noor Hindi: I don’t know, I don’t know how to, there’s no, I don’t have the language yet. So, I worked at that magazine since it started, basically, a month after it started was my first article, six years ago. I was really young. I was like 20 or 21. I had worked at a place before that, writing a couple pieces. That’s how I picked up reporting is, some editor took a chance on me in this tiny community, you know, magazine. And I didn’t know anything about reporting. I was like, 18, fresh out of high school and I would take—she wouldn’t, she would never give me feedback. She would edit the piece and then it was published, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


And I would take the published piece and I would compare them. And that’s how learned.


Helena de Groot: Yes. What she wants. Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Yeah, to do the reporting and what the rules were. So I did that for about a year and a half, and then I started reporting for The Devil’s Strip. And then when the protests happened about the murder of George Floyd, you know, we were out there, and the opportunity for housing came up. And I took it because housing encapsulates all of the … social ills, right? Like, you cannot have good mental health without housing.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: You cannot be in recovery for addiction without stable housing. Your kids cannot get fair, consistent education without proper housing, if you’re constantly being evicted.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Your physical health cannot be in a good place if you are constantly couch surfing or living on the street. So, from infant mortality to basic nutrition, you cannot have any of these things without a roof over your head that is good and decent and has the rights that a person deserves as a human existing in this world, right? It’s the most basic necessity, and I really loved it. I really loved reporting about it, but I didn’t know anything about housing. I jumped into it. I should have thought about it a little bit more. I should have thought about the emotional toll. You know? But the thing that was happening was, you know, the courts were shutting down for some time because of the pandemic, and I watched a lot of eviction hearings. And it was this very … if you ever want a very microscopic lens of all of the ways our systems of injustice work, you spend time in a courtroom. And you begin to understand how all of these very, very tiny, tiny rules and laws that no one has ever heard about, or most people have not heard about, other than the lawyers defending and the judges or magistrates are working in every day, and then you kind of see how the system works. It was really, really hard to watch that every single day.


Helena de Groot: Can you give me an example? Because I find it hard—I mean, I’ve never, like, first of all, I’ve never been in a courtroom. And it sounds really daunting, like if you don’t have a formal education in reporting and you’re not versed in the subject that you’re reporting on. And then all of a sudden, you’re also put in this highly structured environment with its own language, you know what I mean, and all these very specialized terms, what does that look like? Can you tell me a little bit about what you noticed?


Noor Hindi: Yeah. It was—and I want to say, I had not been in a courtroom either. And this is a very … this is a very privileged position to be in. Like, I was watching it for the first time without … without the threat of getting kicked out of my home. Right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And so, imagine that you’re a tenant and you’re about to lose your home, and you have to learn all this language. And it was … it was difficult. I mean, first of all, like when I logged into the Zoom, you put in the username and password and it would say “forcible entry and detainer.”


Helena de Groot: Okay.


Noor Hindi: And I remember texting a reporter, a colleague of mine who had covered evictions for a long time, and I said, “What does this mean? Am I in the right room?” And he’s like, “Yeah, that’s just the fancy term for eviction.”


Helena de Groot: So they don’t even call it eviction. That is ... okay.


Noor Hindi: They don’t call it eviction. You don’t have a name. It’s a case number, case number, case number. The actual name of the eviction, it’s called “writ of restitution.” And that would mess that would mess tenants up a lot, because the magistrate woulddn’t say, “Okay, the eviction has been granted. You’re being evicted.” She would say, “The writ of restitution has been granted.” And no one ever knew what a writ of restitution was.


Helena de Groot: And those tenants had no representation?


Noor Hindi: I mean, low income tenants are the least likely to have representation, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: If they do show up. A lot of them don’t show up. And I think in Akron—Cleveland is different. Cleveland, you have to have a lawyer as a tenant. But in Akron, there’s no rule that says you have to have a lawyer. So you have these lawyered up landlords who already have a considerable amount of power because land ownership is power.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And then these tenants who obviously cannot afford their rent, and are being evicted, who don’t even understand the language of what’s happening around them. Or the technology. I mean, the technology was a mess.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. And also not everyone, I mean, especially not people who are at risk of being evicted usually are not the wealthiest people, like, internet access is not a given. So, I mean, did you report on people who just didn’t have internet access and couldn’t be there?


Noor Hindi: Yeah, we did. I remember we surveyed, in the very beginning we’d looked up the records of people who had scheduled eviction hearings coming up in a couple of days, and we had visited them and asked—and I was doing all of this work, by the way, through Reveal.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. The Center for Investigative Reporting. Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Yeah, yeah, they were a really big support, sort of walking me through this giant system. But we’d gone around to some neighborhoods to ask people, and a lot of them, some of them didn’t know that they had eviction hearings coming up. Some of them knew, but did not plan to go. Many of them had already left their homes. And a lot of them said that they didn’t have internet access or that they didn’t know what Zoom was or … remember, like, if you’re working in an industry, in the service industry or, you know, you have income that’s coming in from doing odd jobs or any any blue collar type work, you don’t necessarily spend eight hours a day in an office on Zoom like the rest of us.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Like, this isn’t just … the language of like, the privileged, and I’m counting myself in that, is language that is—it’s not the same. It’s not the same language, it’s not the same world. And then they would log in and it’s like, I mean, I was like, “I don’t know if I’m in the right room, this doesn’t say eviction,” right? Or they’d be in these waiting rooms for some time wondering if they were in the right place.


Helena de Groot: Wow.


Noor Hindi: I mean, it was really little things like that that really beat a person down, I think.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And you write quite a bit in your essays and in your poetry about the sense of powerlessness that you feel, you know, around your reporting. That, yeah, your reporting is probably not going to save anybody from being evicted. And so, I’m wondering, how do you tell that to the people that you ask, “Can I interview you?” I mean, do they have other expectations? Do they think that you can actually help? And how do you tell them that you can’t?


Noor Hindi: I … I wish I had an answer to that. And when I do, maybe I will report again on that level. I haven’t reconciled it. I haven’t gotten comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing the answer to that. I’m writing a second book about this right now that’s sort of documenting … and asking that question of what the point of writing or witness or storytelling is. Because there’s that really—and this is going to sound so jaded. But there is that really, like, optimistic standpoint of, writing changes the world, you know, stories matter. And they do. But there’s so much … there’s so much, like, useless consumption that’s happening at the same time. There’s such a high volume of everything, including bad news, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And where does it all go? And I don’t think, I don’t think we’ve figured out how to reconcile that. And so I don’t I don’t know what the answer is. And honestly, it did feel very useless, and the thing that snapped that into focus for me very early on, was, we knocked on this guy’s door, he answered it. He was incredibly agitated with us. Even … hinging on a little bit of, like—it was scary, it was scary, right? He was a little like violent, like he looked like he wanted to hit us and I don’t blame him.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.

Noor Hindi: We obviously introduced ourselves, told him what we wanted from him. And he looked at us with the most, just, dumbfounded look on his face. And said, “What the fuck is your article going to do to prevent me from sleeping in my car in two days?” And slammed the door.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And I had no, I had no answer. I mean, I don’t know, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: I didn’t go, I didn’t go to journalism school. I was not indoctrinated with this idea that reporters change the world. I did not carry myself ever with that mindset of, “I’m doing really, really important work.” For me, it was, “I love writing, and I love spending time with people.” And there was moments of great connection and intimacy with quote-unquote “subjects” that I was working with and alongside, and that’s why I loved it. I didn’t do it because I believed in this higher minded idea of truth, right.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: But then I felt really, really dumb. Like, yeah, what was … what was that going to do? And then why do we, why do we produce, right? Like, I was going to write the article and then I was going to hope that some politician who was probably white, was going to pick it up and attempt to change the system, even though the entire system of politics in this country is flawed with voter disenfranchisement and all of the ways we block populations from voting. Or that somebody was gonna … I don’t know. I don’t know who that important, powerful person was going to pick up my article and then decide to fix it.


Helena de Groot: Right. But they were probably not going to go in 48 hours.


Noor Hindi: Right. And yeah, then there’s that sense of urgency too, like, the timeliness of it was not gonna—right.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah.


Helena de Groot: I was wondering if you wanted to read a poem from your upcoming book that is sort of about this. It’s one of those “Breaking [News]” poems.


Noor Hindi: Sure.


Helena de Groot: It’s the one that starts, “We know death is futile.” There were no page numbers in the proof that I got. So, maybe you can, you know, control F. So it starts, “We know death is futile.”


Noor Hindi: I got you, yeah.


Helena de Groot: And is there anything that you want to say before you read it, something that, you know, would help someone listening to get right into it?


Noor Hindi: No, I think … actually, I think this poem I wrote after when we were trying to find people to interview before their eviction.


Helena de Groot: Mm-hmm.


Noor Hindi:




Breaking [News]


We know death

is futile know death

as 3.5 thousand

retweets a trauma

a thing named

empty in internet

measured in the slow

bend of your fingers

clicking the quiet

tempo of expiration

your spleen

in the shape of a gun

in the shape of a pen

I am going

door to door

collecting stories

I place a tape recorder

at the edge of a child’s

stroller and watch

her position it between her teeth

chew on story

and argue she’s agent

of her own story

I dream of America

as nightmare

as child placing drone

in mouth as mother

placing drone

in child’s mouth

to condition her tongue

to the taste

of America I see you

door to door

in eviction

court I attend

and a judge asks

to see

my face so I show her

my blood at the edge

of survival

an audience

of w(h)it(e)ness

Sir, why

are you being evicted

which system

what history

I know your trauma

is a thing we’ll name


news your trauma

a hunger we crave

your trauma behind a paywall

your trauma we measure

with clicks I documents

futility to feed America

more story muddled

by story there is a child

crying in front of a pink wall

as her home is demolished

in Palestine

it moves one to tears

to watch

your own reflection

on a screen

your face in anguish

at another’s pain

looks so sweet

almost heroic.


Helena de Groot: Thank you.


Noor Hindi: Thank you.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, that ending is really—I mean, that gutted me. You read it sort of fast, but when you see it on the page, there’s a line break at a very powerful spot. So, you know, you write about the story of a child “crying in front of a pink wall / as her home is demolished in Palestine / it moves one to / tears to watch”—and then there’s a line break—“your own reflection / on a screen / your face in anguish / at another’s pain / looks so sweet / almost heroic.” I mean, it was such a … it was such a boomerang, I suppose, is the word, you know?


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, you recognize it as a consumer—I hate that word—of news. You do feel like, “Oh, look at me, being a good person for reading articles, watching videos about terrible things happening in the world. Look at me being empathetic,” you know?


Noor Hindi: But we’re all complicit.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Right? I mean, has anyone answered the question of what the hell we do after we read these stories?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Other than, like … feel more useless or like the world is a horrible place. And I’m not arguing that it’s not, right. Like, I’m not arguing that one shouldn’t read those stories.


Helena de Groot: Mm-hmm.


Noor Hindi: But like, what do you do after, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And … I know that’s depressing, and I know there isn’t an answer to it, but ... but, why? Right.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. And how do you, I mean, given that you are a part of creating these stories, right, like, you have to go out there in the cold and the wind and the rain and knock on a stranger’s door who is not having their best day. And you have to be like, “Hey, you know, can I inconvenience you and take some of your time?”


Noor Hindi: Yeah. And sell them.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. You know, like, how do you, what are the moments in your day that you feel are worth it to you, even though, I mean, they may be the tiniest, silliest thing, right? It doesn’t have to be at the level of saving someone from eviction. But what is something that makes you feel like, okay, you can do this another day?


Noor Hindi: Yeah. You’re asking why continue writing, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Yeah, why keep going? You know, I haven’t written a poem since May of 2021. And I’m getting more settled, and I feel that energy coming back. And it’s beautiful. And it feels really sweet. It puts my heart back into place. And selfishly, I think that’s the answer to your question, is that it makes me feel really good, and I feel a release and … I feel a connection to a community of people, of readers, who can feel useless with me, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And, on a really basic level, language is beautiful also. Right? (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: It is a constant comfort when very few other things are.


Noor Hindi: Yeah, it is a comfort. And … I know, there was a thing I said in the very beginning of us talking where it was, I’m a very spiritual person. And I feel very connected to myself when I’m writing and my body when I’m writing. And it feels right in a way that maybe prayer feels right to others, or maybe … someone hugging their kid does, or any of those beautiful moments that hold a person together in this world, I think that writing is that thing for me.




Helena de Groot: And can you articulate what it is about—because you write really ... you write poems that hurt. And so, can you articulate what it is about writing a poem that hurts that feels good, that feels like you’re deeply connected to yourself?


Noor Hindi: Whew. There’s so much selfishness in saying it feels good to write about bad things, right? A little bit.


Helena de Groot: I don’t know if selfishness is the word.


Noor Hindi: I don’t know if it’s selfishness, but it’s—


Helena de Groot: Because then what is prayer? You know what I mean? Is prayer selfish?


Noor Hindi: No. Yeah. Yeah, no, you’re right. You’re right to push back on that. I think, I think I’m trying to heal from these subjects when I’m writing about them. I think I’m trying to find some kind of answer that will help me survive through the world and continue. And I think that it’s more than just, how do you continue writing, it’s more of, the writing is the thing that’s allowing me to continue and allowing me to reconcile these things, or maybe allowing me to sit in that discomfort, right? Like, why write at all? I’m writing to figure out why I should write. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Yes, it’s perfectly circular, but it works.


Noor Hindi: So circular.


Helena de Groot: Yes. Yeah.


Noor Hindi: But it’s like the only way I’m going to find that answer is to keep asking the questions. And maybe, at the end, I don’t have the answer yet, I don’t expect to, but maybe I’m better able to sit with the not answerable.



Helena de Groot: Well, I want to like sort of tilt what we’re talking about in a different direction, because, you know what I love so much in reading a poet’s work is that you kind of get submerged in someone’s consciousness for a bit, right. Like you see the web of associations that this poet weaves and like what makes them think of what other thing. And you know, and it’s very, it’s unique for everybody, right? And in your case, I felt like the presence of Palestine was almost like an overlay, you know, like whatever you’re looking at, you’re also looking at Palestine at the same time.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: You know, it’s like America and Palestine are kind of like superimposed, you know, some quantum situation.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Like in this poem, you know, like, you’re talking about your reporting work in Ohio with people who are going to be evicted or at risk of being evicted. And then you link that immediately, you see a little girl in Palestine, you know, whose home is going to be demolished.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And my question about that is like, what does that feel like? Does it feel lonely? Or is it kind of like some secret knowledge that you have? Because it allows you to understand things more deeply or, like, what does that dual seeing do for you?


Noor Hindi: It’s not a superpower.


Noor Hindi and Helena de Groot: (LAUGH)


Noor Hindi: Injustice doesn’t have a country. It knows no country, right? The abuse of power knows no country. Colonialism knows no country. Like, these ideas don’t have a specific point on a map that you can direct somebody to. So why should our ideas of them, right? I think I grew up with the constant shadow of Palestine in our household. It almost felt like this cloud that existed within the borders of our home. And I think that cloud was my father. You know, he’s a Palestinian refugee. He was six years old during the 1967 war. And he never, ever let go or forgot or lost that vision of Palestine. And I say that because a lot of Palestinians come to this country or are forced into this country, right, because of the situation. And they quote-unquote “assimilate” or integrate, right, I guess integrate is the word now. They integrate very easily and they join American culture and they fit into it in some awkward, mismatched ways. My dad refused to. He just refused. He did not have white friends. He did not have American friends. He ... his English is still very broken after 30 years of being here, almost. He ... he just never joined society. (LAUGHS) I don’t know how else to put it, right.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: And so, you had this very traditional Palestinian person who had layers of generational trauma and, and this trauma of being a refugee and this guilt about leaving, there was so much survivor’s guilt, you know. Up until yesterday, my dad was saying that he wished he stayed, that he wished he’d never left. And so, you know, we were living in a household where somebody was almost, like, emotionally and mentally still in Palestine, but physically here.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And that’s why, because every interaction of my life, every single thing—I was telling somebody today, because I was, I was getting made fun of because I don’t snack.


Helena de Groot: Okay. (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: I’m not a snacker, I eat two meals a day. They’re big meals. And then and then I just vibe off those meals. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Amazing. I mean, it’s a great skill, if you have it.


Noor Hindi: And I was telling them, I don’t, I’m not used to snacking. I grew up with a father who did not buy snacks. You know, you have your rice and your beans and your meat, and you eat that twice a day. You know, there’s no fruit snacks in the cabinet.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: There is no, like, the concept of like, a pantry with, like, chips and salsa and all these things. And so it was literally like living with him, it was, you know, these things were sort of ingrained in every little tiny way, the way we ate, the way that we woke up, the way that we ... all of these little things were seeped into our lives. And that’s my connection to history. And that’s how politics was sort of part of my everyday life. There was no way to, like, disentangle Palestine. I wouldn’t even know where to begin, right?


Helena de Groot: No, no.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: There are a couple of poems that you write about your father or addressed to him. There’s one I’m not sure if it’s addressed to your father. It’s called “Dear K.” You have a few that are “Dear K.”


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Is that for your father or no?


Noor Hindi: Yeah, that is. That’s him. Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Would you feel comfortable reading one of those?


Noor Hindi: Sure.


Helena de Groot: I was thinking of the one that starts, “All this is real.”


Noor Hindi:




Dear K,


All this is real. You tell me stories. You repeat, did you get that? and do you hear me? like I won’t believe you. You hate the way I interrupt Al Jazeera, how I seek answers to questions I shouldn’t be asking. Your body is collapsed on our tired beige couch. Every hour we talk makes me wonder if you’ll ever make eye contact. Will you look at me? Palestinian habits die because Palestinians are dying—are dead. It happens every day. I know you think of your grandfather, how he spent so many of his days staring at a ceiling, inhaling cigarette smoke, relying on the United Nations for food, for shelter. Year after year, you hovered around him—unbreakable.

Helena de Groot: Thank you.


Noor Hindi: Of course. It’s very bizarre to read that poem on its own, actually.


Helena de Groot: What do you mean?


Noor Hindi: I think I—it was like a series.


Helena de Groot: Mm.


Noor Hindi: But yeah, that was fun.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, I mean, I ... I imagine that it’s strange to read a poem about your father. It’s so intimate.


Noor Hindi: Oh, it’s so strange to write about him. I have a story about, actually. I’m very lucky, because my parents are not very comfortable with English, so they rarely read my work. So I’ve had the freedom to write as I wish without their scrutiny. But I will say that the poem, “Fuck Your Lecture on Craft” had blown up so much. And my dad got his hands on it, and …




Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying

Colonizers write about flowers.

I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks

seconds before becoming daisies.

I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.

Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.

It’s so beautiful, the moon.

They’re so beautiful, the flowers.

I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.

He watches Al Jazeera all day.

I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.

I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.

Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound.

When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.

One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them.

Noor Hindi: I think I really wanted his approval, right? I wanted him to love the poem.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And it was his first time really like reading a piece of mine, and there was so much emotions behind that.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And my dad is very ... he’s blunt. He doesn’t talk a lot. And he said, “I read your poem, and I have two things to say.” This is where I’m like, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”


Helena de Groot and Noor Hindi: (LAUGH)


Noor Hindi: And he goes, “One, it’s not very literary for you to use the word ‘fuck’ in a poem.” He was very offended by this.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And then he said, “Also, why am I dead in this poem?” I was like, oh man. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Aw.


Noor Hindi: I didn’t know how to answer it, I was like—


Helena de Groot: Was he angry? Was he—what was his face?


Noor Hindi: No, he wasn’t angry. He was very, like … concerned, I think.


Helena de Groot: Uh-huh.


Noor Hindi: To his first point, like, you’re supposed to be this, like, poet, right.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: Like esteemed, right?


Helena de Groot: Using beautiful words. To write about beautiful things.


Noor Hindi: Using beautiful, delicate, yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And also, like, you’re a woman. How could you like, use the word “fuck” in this? And so I think he was sort of concerned and trying to be like, you shouldn’t do that, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And then I think with the dead thing, I think he was almost like, like it just went over his head, like he just, he didn’t get the metaphor.


Helena de Groot: He was just like, this is not accurate. This is factually not accurate.


Noor Hindi: This is factually not, yeah. And I was like, “Well, you’re kind of dead in this country, like, you’re kind of a ghost here, like it’s not like you—like this country neither embraced you and you didn’t embrace it. And you don’t want to be here. Like you don’t want to be in this country. You don’t believe in the concept of this country. And you’re dead in this country, almost, like, emotionally. Like, you’re not your full self here.” And then he got really sad. And that was when the conversation simmered out. And ... shit, now, I’m sad thinking about this.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Thanks, Helena.


Helena de Groot: Of course, yeah, you’re welcome. My specialty.


Noor Hindi: Thanks for that! (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) You can’t help people being evicted and I can’t help them from being sad about the things they write about, you know?


Noor Hindi: Right. Yeah.


Helena de Groot: But yeah, I mean, did you ever pick up that conversation with him again? Like was this a start of a conversation?


Noor Hindi: Yeah. We’ve talked—I interview him quite a bit for the second book. And we’ve had a lot of conversations. I think he’s very perplexed by me, mostly. Because … so when my parents came to this country, my sister was 13, my brother was 11, and my other brother was six or seven, and I was two. So I had arguably the least exposure to my culture and idea of identity growing up. And my sister lives in Qatar now and loves it. And she was really entrenched in Palestinian literature, which, you know, she had the most exposure and she was really like the closest to my parents.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And my two brothers really like strayed away from the culture. And sort of like, wanted nothing to sort of do with it, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: And I, like, just seemed to, like, really want to be in it, right? (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: And, you know, even like moving here, they’re like, you left—


Helena de Groot: Yeah, right.


Noor Hindi: I mean, literally, it’s almost like Arabs and SWANA people like colonized Dearborn or something. (LAUGHS)

Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: Yeah. So I really leaned into it. And I think I leaned into it from the isolation. And I don’t think my parents realize how, like, deeply isolated I felt as a child. Because the thing that happened with my family is, my parents—and this is going to sound very weird, but we really grew up very isolated. They did not want us to talk to Americans. They were very afraid of Americans. They never got over that fear. And so we did not do sleepovers or birthday parties or hangouts, right. And for my siblings that was very … it was fine, because they had family members who were very close in age and they had a community with them. When I was growing up, I didn’t have that as much. My cousins were all younger than me.


Helena de Groot: Right.


Noor Hindi: And then my older cousins were like, you know,


Helena de Groot: Too old.


Noor Hindi: Yeah, too old. And so I was in this, like, middle spot. And my cousin, who I was very close to, who was three years younger than me, passed away a month after she turned 13, suddenly. And so, she was my closest cousin. I spent a lot of time with her growing up. She was really—we were like sisters. We were like this, you know, like, very, very close. And then so she passed away, and then I sort of lost whatever semblance of community I had at that point.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: So, yeah.

Helena de Groot: And how—I mean, from that sense of not belonging, you know, like not to American society, but also not really to this world that your parents knew and that your father was longing for, because, yeah, you’ve never been to Palestine.


Noor Hindi: (LAUGHS) Yeah.


Helena de Groot: You only knew like second-hand information. Where did you feel like you belonged?


Noor Hindi: I really ... I really think as cliché and corny as it’s become and is, I really think it was in pages.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: It was in the pages of my notebooks that I sort of was able to construct some type of home and community for myself. The first time I really fell in love with poetry was, I was reading Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam. And there is a poem that I can’t remember the title of where she references the sound of the adhan, the time for prayer. And it was so beautiful. I was the first time I saw that sound on the page, and heard it, recognized it. It was this really great moment of connection.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: And then that’s when I really, I think, realized like, oh, like poetry is really great. Like, I really love poetry. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Yeah, it’s for me. Yeah. But do you feel that, for as much as you are on the outside of your parents’ or your father’s, you know, Palestinian experience, do you feel that writing about what you write about, you know, do you feel like it has bridged some of that distance? Do you feel like you’ve gotten closer? Do you feel like you understand your father better for having written about him?


Noor Hindi: I don’t think I’m ever going to understand my father.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: Do we ever understand our parents?


Helena de Groot: Well, no, okay, there’s the fundamental mystery of them. But I also felt in your poems, I did feel like there was a real … rapprochementhow do you say that? Like a, you know, a close—


Noor Hindi: An intimacy, yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, an intimacy.


Noor Hindi: Definitely he was ... and I don’t want to speak for him, because everyone has their own internal feelings. But I think to some degree, I always knew his grief or that it felt like it was mine. Or recognized that aloneness in him. And it hurt. It hurt to, like, carry that. No one told me I had to. It’s just like … you grow up with people and it’s almost like, it’s like osmosis, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Noor Hindi: Like you can’t—where is the separation, right? You can close your bedroom door, but, like, that person’s presence and, we never really separate, right? And I think I felt that very deeply. I felt his grief very deeply. And I felt very isolated. They isolated us, my parents. They were isolated. I mean, I don’t know where that begins or ends, right? Like that emotion. It’s very blurry. Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, but, you know, to go back to that poem that you just read, “You hate the way I interrupt Al Jazeera, how I seek answers to questions I shouldn’t be asking,” you know, so there is already this kind of friction between you and your dad.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: You know, “Every hour we talk makes me wonder if you’ll ever make eye contact. Will you look at me?

Noor Hindi: Yeah. Oh we were a distraction.

Helena de Groot: Yeah, that I thought was interesting, too. Like, I understand that American society is kind of held at bay, because that only means—


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: —you know, it would come to replace Palestine, you know?


Noor Hindi: Right.


Helena de Groot: But your kids, I mean, like, what do you think made it hard for him to connect to you?


Noor Hindi: I think that Dad … you know, there was Palestine and then we existed as distractions away from his fixation on it. I don’t think Dad, I don’t think Dad saw us. I think he was … I think he was very engulfed in his grief and trauma. And I think we were objects to be moved around to get to Palestine.


Helena de Groot: Hmm.


Noor Hindi: And I’m not, like … I’m not mad or upset about that. If you asked my brothers, they would—(LAUGHS).


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Noor Hindi: I think … again, I just think it’s politics, it’s just history, it’s geography, it’s the way that—it’s all this shit I can’t control that was in my household that I had to just deal with, right?


Helena de Groot: Right.


Noor Hindi: So—and that’s not to make an excuse for him, either, but it’s just recognizing generational trauma, right?


Helena de Groot: Right, right.


Noor Hindi: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: So, I have a sense from reading your poetry and from talking to you that you have a lot of weight on your shoulders, you know, like not just as a reporter, when you are like carrying the pain of all these people that you talk to, but also your father’s grief, and then by extension, you know, Palestine’s grief. And so I’m wondering, with all of that grief and responsibility on your shoulders, you know, to write about it, to write about it in the right way, and so on, how do you allow yourself the space to write a different kind of poem, you know, to write a poem about your happiness or about someone you love or, you know, something that has nothing to do with all this responsibility and grief? How do you allow yourself that space? Is it a struggle?


Noor Hindi: No.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS LIGHTLY)


Noor Hindi: No, I mean that. I think joy and love is also resistance, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: Like, I love, I love Ross Gay’s work.


Helena de Groot: Yeah!


Noor Hindi: I mean, nobody can look at that work and say that Ross Gay does not carry a lot on his shoulders, right?


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah.




Noor Hindi: And I think my friend Jeremiah [inaudible] who’s also a poet, would also argue that joy is revolutionary and would also remind me that it’s time to go to Cleveland on a Saturday, and, you know, they’re going to make me really sugary waffles with all of the toppings. And we’re going to eat, you know, like—


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Noor Hindi: I think there is no lack of joy in my life, and I’m very thankful for that. But I also think that that’s a very intentional thing.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Can I ask you to read a poem that I thought was exceptionally joyful?


Noor Hindi: Sure. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: It’s called “Ode.” Again, it’s, you know, pageless.


Noor Hindi: Yes.


Helena de Groot: But it starts, “The night, so warm I could fall in love.”


Noor Hindi: Yes, this is for my friend Kevin. I love this poem because it ... this was after a really good night of a lot of, like, calm and quiet.






The night, so warm I could fall in love

with anything

including myself. My loves, you are the only people

I'd surrender my softness to.

The moon so blue. What’s gold

is gold. What’s real

is us despite

a country so grieved, so woke, so deathly.

Our gloom as loud as shells.

Listen. Even the ocean begs.

Put your hands in the sand, my friend.

It’s best we bury ourselves.

What’s heavy? What’s heavy?

Becomes light.




Helena de Groot: Noor Hindi is the author of the chapbook Diary of a Filthy Woman, and the upcoming debut collection, DEAR GOD. DEAR BONES. DEAR YELLOW., which should be out in May of 2022. She’s been awarded residencies with Twelve Literary Arts and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and she’s one of five Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellows, awarded each year by the Poetry Foundation. She’s currently at work as a fellow with the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting; if you’re curious, go subscribe to the Reveal podcast. Noor Hindi lives in Dearborn, Michigan, with her roommates and her cat, Luna. To find out more about her poetry, check out the Poetry Foundation website. The music in this episode is by Todd Sickafoose. I’m Helena de Groot, and this was Poetry Off the Shelf. Thank you for listening.





Noor Hindi on home ownership, evictions court, and her father's grief.

More Episodes from Poetry Off the Shelf
Showing 1 to 20 of 486 Podcasts
  1. Tuesday, July 26, 2022

    Trickster God

  2. Tuesday, July 12, 2022

    The Healing Brush

  3. Tuesday, June 28, 2022

    Yelling Down the Phone

  4. Tuesday, June 14, 2022

    Telling the Truth

  5. Tuesday, May 31, 2022

    Team Mystery

  6. Tuesday, May 17, 2022

    All There Is

  7. Tuesday, May 3, 2022

    The Neverending Quest

  8. Tuesday, April 19, 2022

    The Body You Control

  9. Tuesday, April 5, 2022

    Pushing the Ear

  10. Tuesday, March 22, 2022

    Blossoms in Ukraine

  11. Tuesday, March 8, 2022

    Listen for My Name

  12. Tuesday, February 22, 2022

    Ghost Diplomat

  13. Tuesday, February 8, 2022

    My Body, My Stones

  14. Tuesday, January 25, 2022

    The Big Hollow

  15. Tuesday, January 11, 2022

    A Little Wrong

  16. Tuesday, December 21, 2021

    Poets We Lost in 2021

  17. Tuesday, December 7, 2021

    Bird in a Drawer

  18. Tuesday, November 23, 2021

    How to Be a Family of One

  19. Tuesday, October 26, 2021

    A History with Holes

  20. Tuesday, October 12, 2021

    My Drowning Home

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
    6. 6
  1. Next Page