“My body may be here but my soul is in Syria.” The opening line of lisa luxx’s Eating the Copper Apple is a poignant distillation of the emotional journey traversed by the British and Syrian poet in her latest performance.
From West Yorkshire to the borders of Syria, luxx’s one-woman show explores identity, culture and displacement. At once funny and philosophical, her performance at the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) earlier this week capped off a three-city UK tour, beginning in Bradford and showcased at London’s Shubbak festival.
Speaking to The National before her final performance on the tour, it was clear the intense creative endeavour had left luxx — who uses lower case spelling — both elated and exhausted.
“It has been amazing but it was really emotionally hard on me … it is a really traumatic story,” says the 31-year-old, who spent 18 months writing and developing the 60-minute poetic tale of her life, in close collaboration with LAAF.
Born in Manchester to a British mother of Eastern European heritage and a Syrian father, luxx was immediately put in foster care for several years before being adopted and raised by a Lebanese and English couple in West Yorkshire.
As an adult she spent years retracing her roots and trying to get to Syria from Lebanon, where she now lives, when she unexpectedly made contact with her biological father for the first time.
Rich with emotion, depth and evocative poetry, her performance is a personal examination of the impact of displacement on identity.
“What that unravelled was a construction of identity and its relationship with love, and how we learn and the impact of displacement on my life, from foster care, through adoption, through being diaspora from being mixed heritage too, which is a form of displacement from yourself,” she said. She reveals that many people from the audiences on the tour told her they had found their own “reflection” in her work.
“I think it’s a really beautiful and interesting experience having something so heavy held by the audience themselves, after in the Q&A, where there's this kind of shared holding of each other's experience."
Even though luxx has not yet made it to Syria, she says the feeling “on a cellular genetic level” that she was from there became viscerally apparent to her when the war began and, living in England at the time, she found herself inundated with stories about Syria in the media.
“I was trying to understand my relationship with what I was to what I was seeing,” she says. “I was finding a mirroring in all of the displacement that I was watching because I think you can say that adoption is a type of refuge.”
What followed for luxx was a journey to the East, “moving like a flame trying to chase its own runaway smoke,” as she writes in her 40-page poem. She describes her “mixed-heritage body” as being a “vessel for colliding histories,” a poetic indictment of man-made borders.
“Coming from these countries where there is so much diaspora I do believe that we have to start seeing our bodies as the place that defies geography,” she tells The National.
With a nod to her ancestral tradition of oral storytelling, the three-act poetic tale is peppered with motifs that bring out the yearning and questioning raised in her story. A copper mirror, the oldest kind originating in Middle East, reflects selfhood, she explains, while the apple speaks of luxx’s rupture from her family tree.
The spoken word poet has long stirred souls with her writing, once described by Dazed & Confused magazine as “sensitive, revolutionary and fierce.” A regular headliner at literary events, including at the Royal Albert Hall, Latitude Festival and Station Beirut, luxx was the winner of the Outspoken Prize of Performance Poetry 2018, and has been broadcast across media platforms including Channel 4, BBC, Vice and ITV.
Her debut poetry collection, Fetch Your Mother’s Heart, was published earlier this year.
A stage production with accompanying soundscape was, however, a new creative frontier and luxx credits a team of “amazing women” for pulling it off. Bringing together a team of Arab heritage women artists is, she says, an important part of her “economy of sisterhood” practise, something the staunch feminist has expounded extensively in her published essays.
“As I explored my relationship to the Middle East and my Arab roots, it was both an act of collective care and just distribution of funding to hire an international team of women artists who were also of Arab heritage,” she explains. “It's not just about the money. It's also how we care for each other and how we work in a way that is based on honesty that prioritises well-being.”
Her burgeoning interest in feminist economies is something she plans to explore further in the Masters in Anthropology and Cultural Politics she is set to complete next year. Before that she is returning to Lebanon, the country she says has adopted her many times, to help those struggling to cope through a brutal socio-economic crisis. Following the massive Beirut port explosion that ripped through the city last year she co-founded Elaa Beirut, an organisation that offers free mental health support for those traumatised by the event.
Despite its many troubles, Lebanon will continue to be a place where she explores her mixed heritage and where she still asks the big questions about how we become who we are, but she returns to England regularly. She wants to run another UK tour of Eating the Copper Apple next year — pandemic restrictions allowing — but viewers can catch a digital version of the performance online in the meantime.
As to where luxx herself now belongs, she says she found the answer in among the audience.
“I was trying to find my place in the world and only through sharing it on this tour have I found my place in the world. Because people from all walks of life found a reflection in me and I believe that those of us who come from a lot of displacement, our home is one another.”