Rebecca Gayle Howell

Rebecca Gayle Howell holds a combined MFA in poetry and poetry in translation from Drew University and is the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Jules Chametzky Prize in Literary Translation (for ten poems by Amal al- Jubouri), and long-term support from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Howell translated al-Jubouri’s Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation with Husam Qaisi, a Palestinian who has lived in the U.S. since 2003 and close family friend. In the Translator’s Preface, she describes in detail their painstaking process, as well as her exchanges with the author, nudging the poems further into English. The resulting translations lay the groundwork for a bridge of understanding that transcends culture, language, and national borders, rendering whole the fragmented half-story that is Iraq for most Americans. As Asymptote Journal described it, “Relying on Qaisi’s fluency, and entrusting herself to al-Jubouri’s vision, Howell has written beautiful, moving, and passionate poems in English that try to welcome the stranger among us, letting the one our nations has called enemy speak in our own tongue.” Hagar was one of six collections of poetry shortlisted for the 2012 Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA) and a finalist for Three Percent’s Best Translated Book Award.

Howell is also a documentarian, whose projects include “Overburden: A People and Place Mined” (Plundering Appalachia, Earth Aware Editions) and This is Home Now: Kentucky’s Holocaust Survivors Speak (University Press of Kentucky). Her poems and translations have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, Ecotone, and the Massachusetts Review, among others. She is currently teaching and pursuing a Ph.D. at Texas Tech University.

Poetry Center Reading:
Fall 2012 (With Amal Al-Jubouri)

How to Kill a Rooster

Take a blade
Cut his throat

Watch his blood drip
to the ground

Watch his wings spread
and flap and flap and

while you watch this desperate bird
and think to yourself

I will never be like him

remember in the end you will
drop him in boiling water

pluck each of his oily feathers
between your fingers

Remember in the end
you will taste him

for good

How to Preserve

Boil the water bath
Drop glass

Drop hands
finger tips

speaking mouth

Drop memory
like glass

down into the bath
Bring up the heat

slow so none notice
nothing shatters

so the tongue can think
it might not be burned

might go on telling
what does not want to be told

This is how you preserve


before packing the jars
with glory

O Harvest
Hard won

and terrible

My Mother Told Us Not to Have Children

She’d say, Never have a child you don’t want.
Then she’d say, Of course, I wanted you
once you were here. She’s not cruel. Just practical.
Like a kitchen knife. Still, the blade. And care.
When she washed my hair, it hurt; her nails
rooting my thick curls, the water rushing hard.
It felt like drowning, her tenderness.
As a girl, she’d been the last
of ten to take a bath, which meant she sat
in dirty water alone; her mother in the yard
bloodletting a chicken; her brothers and sisters
crickets eating the back forty, gone.
Is gentleness a resource of the privileged?
In this respect, my people were poor.
We fought to eat and fought each other because
we were tired from fighting. We had no time
to share. Instead our estate was honesty,
which is not tenderness. In that it is
a kind of drowning. But also a kind of air.