Lubna Safi on Speaking Your Mind and Not Having Language for Every Facet of an Experience

Lubna Safi on Speaking Your Mind and Not Having Language for Every Facet of an Experience

An interview with Lubna Safi from The Write Stuff series:

Lubna Safi is a poet, writer, and graduate student residing in California. Her poems and essays have been published in Guernica, The Journal, MIZNA, and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, Your Blue and the Quiet Lament won the Walt McDonald First Book Prize in Poetry and is forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press in August 2022. 

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I’m a graduate student, it’s my day (and night) job.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Trudging on through the doubt.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Read widely, but also learn to cultivate patience and love for the work because it’ll take a lot of time and dedicated effort to arrive where you want to be (and if you don’t arrive, you’ll still have the love).

What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?

My education has allowed me to process my experiences in the world. I’m still learning, because so much eludes me, and I know I won’t reach the point where I’ll have language for every facet of an experience in the same way I won’t have every experience.

If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?

Stop rushing, take your time, you’ll get there in the end.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I’m still growing into my idea of success.

Why do you get up every morning?

For the coffee.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?

I’m fascinated by my paternal grandfather who passed away when I was two years old. He was a general in the Syrian Army before the Baathists (the current ruling regime) took power and was forced out after the coup. He was quite young—only forty years old—and had wanted to make his career in the army but found himself having to reinvent his life (he had staked a lot on the idea of himself as an army man). He dabbled in so many things, but ultimately nothing lingered.

What’s wrong with society today?

“The strong gets more, while the weak ones fade” Billie Holiday

Where do you go to find sanctuary?

Into a song.

What is your fondest memory?

I can’t choose just one, so all my camping memories. I first went camping in 2018 with a friend and then I went a few months later I tried it out by myself at Mount Lassen National Park.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A free Palestine, Syria, and Afghanistan.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I can’t define what art is, but I feel it everywhere. It’s necessary like a heartbeat is necessary to the heart.

What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?

I am the interpreter of my desires.

What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.

I like quality pieces. Usually I’m wearing something I thrifted. When I leave the house, it’s layers and a good perfume.

What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?

I’m working on my dissertation, which is like a very long poetry collection with significantly less figurative language.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

The wealth disparity (and maybe, too, a fog-free August.)

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Driving through empty streets, towards somewhere that has ice cream.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

In my recent memory, the strangest thing I’ve seen is a crow sitting in the grass. I’d never seen a crow in full nest position on the ground before (it wasn’t hurt!).

What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?

I was driving the other day and the sky was incredible, a deep red sun setting in a cloud of purple and pink. I kept glimpsing it between the houses and couldn’t keep my eyes on the road. There’s a life lesson in there, I think.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

50 words—an epigraph and a dedication. 50 dollars—flowers, fruit, and some honeycomb.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Olive oil soap, jasmine, and orange blossom water.

What are you unable to live without?


If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

If I was also supplied the courage, I’d love to see our planet from outer space.

If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?

If I lived in an ideal society, my day would begin and end with no debilitating news about something awful happening somewhere in the world. I’d take more night walks, say what’s on my mind more, and go to sleep without the dread of our earth dying by our hands.

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