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?

1 comment:

Gene Paul said...

Self-referencing in NZ poetics deserves a cringe.

That old chestnut, the cultural cringe, needs to be revived. Otherwise how can we rid ourselves of the prevailing claptrap? Unassailable behind their wall of native plant names, nature worship and narcissistic free verse, the current lot silence any criticism by throwing around words like national identity and self-expression. But how believable is the claim They embrace the very characteristics that make the thinking man cringe. The following three poems might help shed light on what has so far been hidden in a fog of smug.

The bucolic as an answer to a generation’s failure
How many times does one encounter native plants in NZ poetry? Or native birds? Or reflections on quiet spaces and the value of antimaterialism?

Compare with Gary Snyder’s ‘Hay for the Horses’. Just imagine all the animals and plants with NZ names and ask if it actually matters which landmass’ fauna makes the cut when one is just providing proper nouns. Then ask the question; Is this an idealised backdrop for the displacement of self-loathing by suburbanites who realise their enlightenment only resulted in a more refined way of gorging on consumer culture? Or does the naming of animals merely provide props to fill syntax and scenery?

“...We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa…

…..The old mare nosing luchpails
Grasshoppers carckling in the weeds…

….I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what what
I’ve gone and done”

The kitsch of nationalism replaces the icons of culture
Once it is recognised that proper noun listing does not a culture make, post Maori Renaissance self-referencing comes off as rather hollow. Doesn’t the sprinkling New Zealand specific items merely utilise what we have in common as a nation rather than the icons representing culture? Does the mention of recognisably New Zealand detail really identify the unique qualities of our cultural milieu as the NZon Air regime would have us believe or are they merely bullet points in a list of materials for nation-building? And nation building remember is the stuff of propaganda, information ministries and thought police.
Does the use of the word potatoes below work as an exposition for the expression of the self within a cultural context or does it resemble a scream for recognition of a national identity?
I think Seamus Heaney would balk at the notion that after hundreds of years of nation destroying including a severe root crop famine he would hardly expect to be accused of attempting to build Irish pride so glibly.

“When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron….”

Lets talk about ourselves
The appeal of the universal is lost. Disregard the universal and you are left with prattle.

Isn’t the following such a pleasant read because no silly self-referencing interferes?

“The fog comes
on little cat feet

It sits looking
over harbour and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on”