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Local Muslim poet settles back into Grand Rapids area after six years abroad

Twenty-nine year old Kari Moss of Ada uses her faith and strong command of the French and English languages to compose locally touted poetry.

/Ryan Collins

“Kari Moss's work speaks to the suffering and struggles of individuals and the tender ones throughout the planet,” says Grand Rapids Poet Laureate, David Cope, “yet it also places the broken ones, the tender ones [and] the lost ones within the vast sweep of corroding civilizations through ‘five million years of wild time.’”

Moss is a graduate of Godwin Heights High School and studied French at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). She cites her fluency in French as a strong influence on the language she uses in her poetry.

“[French] complements English very well because they both…[have] so many words that are similar in French and English. Your vocabulary doubles,” she says.

After studying French at GRCC for two years, Moss traveled abroad to France, where she went to work as a nanny, and put her grasp of the French language to use in her first job.

“I got a job as a nanny the first year, and that didn’t work out, so I just started going to college,” says Moss.

Moss graduated from L’Institut Catholique de Paris (Catholic Institute of Paris) with the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree in English. However, Moss says she earned more than an English degree while living in France. She earned a new approach to life. While in France, Moss lived in a quarter (neighborhood) of Paris comprised of predominantly North African immigrants.

“They have tons of Moroccan and Algerian immigrants. I lived in one of the neighborhoods, so I got to know a lot of them.”

It was there, six years ago, that she converted to Islam.

Moss says she experienced far more anti-Islamic sentiments in France than in the United States.

“It’s definitely worse,” Moss says. “They have this governmental system—it’s called laïcité. It’s a legal system where all religion should be hidden…if you work in the public sector you can’t wear a cross; you can’t wear a headscarf. You can’t wear anything that…shows your religion. I couldn’t get a job at all.”

Despite Moss’s disillusion with the attitudes toward Muslims in France, there is no sign of bitterness in her work. Moss believes the casual reader of her poetry wouldn’t be able to pinpoint that she’s drawing on her life as a devout Muslim.

“I guess most of [my poetry] is derived from my faith,” Moss says. “I use lots of metaphors from the Quran…that are kind of subtle. It’s not…overtly religious, but I use such subtle references to the Quran that most people wouldn’t catch them. I don’t talk about God directly.”

However, the Islamic imagery in Moss’s writing is only the first layer of her craft.

“[There are] paratactic leaps she requires of readers from one line or set of lines to the next,” Cope explains, “images that resound with significant differences in different poems and yet knit the manuscript together.”

Moss, like most poets, also uses her poetry as an outlet for everyday occurrences and major life-altering events, including returning to Grand Rapids after expatriating to France for six years.

“It was difficult,” says Moss. “In one of my poems I said ’I’m holding my lonely peasant fall from God’s mercy,’” Moss explains. “I had this prestigious life in France, going to the best schools and then coming here was kind of… a step backward, in a way.”

Fortunately, Moss is acclimating herself with Grand Rapids. On April 24 she had her first public reading at GRCC’s Muslim Journeys Bookshelf Poetry Night and she hopes to do more readings soon.

Moss will also be published in the 40th anniversary issue of Cope’s independently run Big Scream poetry magazine, a magazine that he has published consistently for 39 years.

“[Big Scream has had] 51 issues of poets ranging from the famous to gifted students reaching publication for the first time,” says Cope. “[The next issue] will be quite special, as few of these small press and ‘indie’ magazines last more than a year or two, but somehow I have managed to keep the flame alight all these years and bring attention to some very great poems.”

Along with being published in Big Scream, Moss says she is satisfied with continuing her work as an interpreter for Interpreter Network in Grand Rapids and publishing her poetry on the side.

“I’d like to publish a book, eventually,” says Moss. “You can’t really have [poetry] as a career these days."

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