Evolving Origins: Homelands Are More Than Physical Spaces with Rosebud Ben-Oni

This lesson will be focusing on the idea of Homelands. A homeland is more than just a physical space in which one traces back her or his own roots. The idea of having a homeland, versus identifying one’s nationality, weighs heavier, particularly but no limited to those living in some sort of exile, be it physical, spiritual, familial, etc.

In his seminal work Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie writes that “[i]t may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity…human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.”

For Rushdie, the past itself serves a homeland in which we cannot escape, or see clearly a larger picture, the true picture. Our perceptions, our own truths, are created from wounds and skewed visions.


Reading Assignments

Shadow Cities” by Andre Aciman

In his essay, Aciman writes that “I had come here, an exile from Alexandria, doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past. I wanted to rescue things everywhere, as though by restoring them here I might restore them elsewhere as well. In seeing one Greek restaurant disappear or an old Italian cobbler’s turn into a bodega, I was once again reminded that something was being taken away from the city and, therefore, from me—that even if I don’t disappear from a place, places disappear from me.”

What do you believe Straus Park ultimately represented to Aciman?

Here are some poems in which authors deal with the idea (and often lose of) homeland:

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Blood
Charles Simic, “Cameo Apparence”
Mahmoud Darwish, “Who Am I, Without Exile?
Scott Cairns, “Homeland of the Foreign Tongue”

Writing Exercises

Writing Exercises for Your Own Exploration and Reflection

  1. Free Word Association: Without overthinking it, list the first 15 words that comes to mind when you think of “Homeland.”
  2. Now, list all the places you have lived. Even if you moved from a place at 6 months old, write it down.
  3. Thinks about how some of those places have changed; use Aciman’s essay “Shadow Cities” for inspiration. Choose a few, and explain how or why they’ve changed since you’ve lived (or still are living) there.

*Once you’ve completed these exercises, review in depth your answers to all 3.


Writing Assignment for Submission

Using your answers from the previous 3 exercises, write a poem about homeland(s). It can be any sort of homeland– it is not limited to the idea of an actual space. The poem should be an exploration of how you define the word. NO LENGTH REQUIREMENT.


Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a graduate of the Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater in NYC. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review. Rosebud is the founding talent and voice behind “Evolving Origins.”