Constable: Poet from Rolling Meadows making waves

 
 
Updated 4/19/2018 12:11 PM
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  • Faisal Mohyuddin started writing poetry as a sophomore at Fremd High School in Palatine. Now, the former Rolling Meadows resident is a critically acclaimed poet whose first full-length collection debuts Sunday after winning The Sexton Prize for Poetry.

      Faisal Mohyuddin started writing poetry as a sophomore at Fremd High School in Palatine. Now, the former Rolling Meadows resident is a critically acclaimed poet whose first full-length collection debuts Sunday after winning The Sexton Prize for Poetry. Burt Constable | Staff Photographer

  • Having grown up in Rolling Meadows as the son of immigrants from Pakistan, Faisal Mohyuddin uses poetry to explore yearning and dreams as well as pain and heartache.

    Having grown up in Rolling Meadows as the son of immigrants from Pakistan, Faisal Mohyuddin uses poetry to explore yearning and dreams as well as pain and heartache. Courtesy of Faisal Mohyuddin

In 1995, 16-year-old Faisal Mohyuddin of Rolling Meadows was so driven to share his experience as the son of Pakistani immigrants taking part in Ramadan as a distinct minority in the suburbs that he persuaded me to accompany him to the feast at a banquet hall in Elk Grove Village for a column. Now the 39-year-old award-winning poet tells his own stories.

Mohyuddin's debut full-length collection of poems, "The Displaced Children of Displaced Children," won The Sexton Prize for Poetry as judged by Kimiko Hahn and was given a prestigious Poetry Book Society Recommendation for summer 2018. His poems have been included in several anthologies, and his many awards include the 2014 Edward Stanley Award from Prairie Schooner and a 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize.

"It's about history, legacy, laughter, loss. … The more I talk about it, the more I struggle to talk about it," Mohyuddin says with a chuckle. He writes about his late father, Mohammad, and his own fatherhood; Faisalabad, the Pakistani hometown of his mother, Rahat, who still lives in Rolling Meadows; an immigrant from India who took his own life after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1923 stripped him of his American citizenship; and the struggles and dreams of souls displaced by violence. But he also writes about jellyfish in space, a lost earring, dogs, eating an entire pumpkin pie for breakfast, and a talking banana, forgotten but longing for "a life destined not to be a forgotten thing, but something delicious, something good."

"Because these poems are so well-crafted and the emotion so well-expressed, the subject matter is overtaken by such themes as boundary, legacy, loss, claim," writes Hahn, an accomplished poet and president of the Poetry Society of America, who selected Mohyuddin's work submitted anonymously in a blind contest with hundreds of other entries from around the United States. "Whether a long narrative poem, or shorter lyric poems, these are the works of a poet mature in his concerns and thinking."

Mohyuddin has had that approach with his poems since he started writing poetry during his sophomore year at Fremd High School in Palatine. "The Fremd teachers opened the door to writing," says Mohyuddin, who is in his 15th year of teaching English at Highland Park High School.

"I'm an English teacher first," says Mohyuddin, who is a graduate of Carleton College and earned his master's degree in education at Northwestern University and a master's of fine arts degree in fiction writing from Columbia College.

He also is a graduate of the U.S. Department of State's Teachers for Global Classrooms program and serves as an educator-adviser to Narrative 4, a global nonprofit dedicated to empathy-building and barrier-breaking through the exchange of stories. Always looking for ways to update and improve education, he once taught Shakespeare through his Hamlet Twitter project.

Mohyuddin dedicated his book to his parents. "At some point, I started writing poems imagining my father as a boy," the poet says. The upheaval, war and violence surrounding the 1947 independence of Pakistan resulted in the murder of Mohyuddin's father's father.

"My dad made a choice not to pass along the pain," the poet says, explaining how his father, a mechanical engineer who died in 2015, worked the night shift to help Mohyuddin and his four younger siblings live good lives in suburbia. "I think of all the sacrifices. The child has no idea how much love is given."

Mohyuddin said he and his wife, lawyer Hina Sodha, have a greater understanding of that now that they are parents to a 3-year-old son. They live in Chicago, and Mohyuddin takes the train to his teaching job. "The train is often where I will write," the poet says of his daily commute.

Mohyuddin will sign copies of his book, published by Eyewear Publishing of London, at the U.S. launch party at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka.

Much of Mohyuddin's work spans generations, and the opening poem of "The Displaced Children of Displaced Children" deals with a man talking with his father as he ponders a conversation with his own future son some day.

"Tell him more about the hours of your life," the older father says, "so his hunger is not as desperate nor as bottomless as ours."

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