Contributor Spotlight: Khaleel Gheba

Photo of Khaleel Gheba standing outside on the top of a detached staircase with trees in the background

Khaleel Gheba’s poem St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Cityis featured in Issue 77 of the Bellingham Review

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

At the end of a relationship a year or two ago, I started writing these poems. Each poem was a letter from somewhere else, dealing with absence or anger or politics or theories of infinity or accepting loss or putting ice cubes in white wine. You know, normal breakup stuff. In thinking about lonely places, “St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City” emerged. Where else could you feel so lonely, so small? And when you’re reduced like that, how do you respond? To me, anger (however petty) seemed the correct reaction.

Tell us about your writing life.

I feel like most of my writing life has been spent trying to answer big, meaningful questions, then getting distracted and over-answering questions no one cares about. But in the process, we all learn a lot about ourselves.

Which non-writing aspects of your life most influence your writing? 

I spend about 10% of my day staring at the sky and thinking about how big it is.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

One of my professors, Janice Harrington, always asked, “Where does the poem start?” As in, where do we begin paying attention to a piece of writing? Where do the words begin to focus, and does all the meandering before that focusing moment need to be there? Sometimes, there’s worthwhile stuff in the pre-focus wastes of a poem, but many times, yeah, you can just cut that. It’s freeing to have the knowledge that yes, you can (and should) probably burn most of your writing away, leaving only the good bits.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writers?

My favorite poem for the last year has been Natalie Shapero’s “Ten What.” It’s a poem that unfolds in such a precise and surprising way—I slap my knee at its conclusion, each time I read it. Her 2017 book, Hard Child, is full of such knee-slappers.

What are you reading right now?

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, which is partly funny and mostly horrifying. I’ve also been working my way through the Vagabond manga series by Takehiko Inoue, a mix of spiritual and universal contemplation alongside samurai action.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you? 

I’m ready to admit that I’m terrible at Mario Kart. I’ll never be good. And I will spend the rest of my life living under the weight of this self-knowledge.

Where can our readers connect with you online?

You can find me on Twitter @ohgoditsabear, or at my website, khaleelgheba.com.


KHALEEL GHEBA received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2014. His work has appeared in DIAGRAM, Redivider, Bayou Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Maryland, where he works as a librarian.


Featured Image: “colores matinales, Madrid” by Juan María

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