I strode into the Higley Hall auditorium, there were already a number of professors and a patchwork of students scattered around the room for Philip Metres’ poetry reading from his new book, Shrapnel Maps. Metres is a professor of English at John Carroll University and has received numerous awards for his poetry, including the Lyric Poetry Prize from the Poetry Society of America.
The room was at first jittery, and the hum of anticipation and excitement grew as more people walked into the auditorium. Robert P. Hubbard Assistant Professor of Poetry Michael Leong introduced Metres. Leong gave an appreciative speech about Shrapnel Maps as a medium that captures the essence of poetic expression and political witnessing, describing the book as both a call to compassion and an invitation into a world that the reader may not be familiar with. At this point, Metres stepped up to the podium, and the audience members leaned in, their eyes trying to catch the words straight from the page.
The first poem that Metres read was written in Arabic, read from right to left. He was assisted in the reading of this poem by Layla Bayoumi ’25 with some lines said in English and others in Arabic. The lines flowed from one to the next, and while his voice and hers didn’t merge, there was a merging of intent, two lines running to land on one converging point. There was applause for both the poem and the student’s oratory. It was at this point that Metres decided to explain the inspiration behind the creation of this book.
His sister went to Palestine in the summer of 1993 to learn Arabic and the culture, where she met her future spouse. Metres went to Palestine along with his family for her wedding, and the experience, along with the pictures he took on the trip, inspired him to write Shrapnel Maps.
From that point on, he took the audience on a journey of experiences, easily transporting us to scenes from his personal life. I could taste the air from his neighborhood and picture the blaze of the sun. In other poems, he drew the audience into his mind and the guilt he felt from not having a coherent stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In another piece directly inspired by a picture from his sister’s wedding, he wrote about the nuanced and layered ways of saying “love” in Arabic and tied that to the culture of Palestinian people. A majority of these poems made biblical allusions, comparing the customary to the mythic. At several moments, there was a rapturous snapping of fingers applauding Metres’ poetic skill.
At the end, there was a Q&A session during which Metres and audience members shared poets they enjoyed and the evolution of poetry over time. As the audience strode out of the auditorium, I felt there was a feeling akin to picking the perfect fruit from the basket and biting into it — satisfaction.