Poet Hayan Charara explores the theme of “Harvest” through Jeremiah 8:20.
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20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
I was drawn to Jeremiah 8:20 for a few reasons. At its most basic, it is a lament, and its message rings true for me, both literally (I live in Texas, which for years has suffered a severe and destructive drought) and metaphorically (reading the passage I couldn’t help but think of how the world’s ills have imposed themselves on the lives of loved ones, especially those who live in the war-torn Middle East—including my father and brother—and those who live in my hometown, Detroit).
The tone also grabbed my attention. Unlike the angry invective with which most “jeremiads” are associated, whether Biblical or modern-day, Jeremiah 8:20 is, at least in isolation, again a lament more than a diatribe; it bears more responsibility than blame. Also worthwhile is the “we,” a pronoun of authoritarian, grandiose rhetoric (think “We the people…”). Here, though, the “we” accomplishes something close to the opposite. While authoritative, its tone is also inclusive and even humble.
Finally, the formal elements impressed me. Jeremiah 8:20 is nearly a traditional haiku insofar as the number of syllables-per-line is concerned. The traditional 5-7-5 structure is here 5-6-5. As a way to impose conciseness, I decided to adopt the 5-6-5 syllabic structure, and also to follow the parallelism of the independent clauses, which added gravitas to the original passage and, I hope, to my poem.
Hayan Charara is the author of three poetry books, The Alchemist’s Diary (Hanging Loose, 2001), aPublisher’s Weekly “Notable Debut,” The Sadness of Others (Carnegie Mellon, 2006), nominated for the National Book Award, and the forthcoming Something Sinister (Carnegie Mellon, 2014). He is a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, for poetry, as well as the Lucille Joy Prize for Poetry from the creative writing program at the University of Houston. His poems have been published widely, translated into French and Arabic, and nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. He also edited Inclined to Speak (University of Arkansas, 2008), an anthology of contemporary Arab American poetry, and has also written a children’s book, The Three Lucys, winner of the New Voices Award Honor and forthcoming from Lee & Low Books in 2014. He teaches in the Honors College at the University of Houston.