Jasmine Revolution Poem

One of the luxuries of living in a decent democracy is the liberty to be embarrassed by most contemporary political poetry. Poetry has become so polite we are even a touch wary of being reminded that words are so easily there for the taking. No one is trying to tell us which ones we can use, which ones we can't. If no one needs to keep us quiet, then why on earth would we feel we're at risk? But there are dozens of countries where poets pay a price for not accepting that the word-hoard of language belongs only to a few. One of the things a laureate blog might do is at least to show we know about such writers. There’s solidarity even in that. And it doesn’t much matter whether they are good writers or mediocre ones or even less. Translation barriers usually prevent us from being able to judge. But aesthetic judgments are not what most matter to them. What does, is to be part of a world where language is not claimed to be the possession of political elites.

Mohammed-al-Ajani, a thirty eight year old Qatari, the father of four children, did not respect the regime that governed him, and that he had no part in choosing. He said so in a poem, a straightforward statement that had none of the subtlety say of Mandelstam's famous poem on Stalin that took him to the camps. In one sense it was the broadest kind of 'banner poetry'. But he read it aloud, and was sentenced to fifteen years solitary confinement, for conspiring against the state. This is part of his 'Jasmine Revolution Poem,' translated by Abu-zeid.

When we lay blame
only the base and the vile suffer from it;
and when we praise
we do it with all our hearts.
A revolution was kindled with the blood of the people

tell them in a shrouded voice, a voice from the grave,
tell them that tragedies precede all victories.

This question that keeps you up at night –
it won’t be found
on any of the official channels. . . .
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West –
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?