Syrian Poets and Prison

I don’t know quite what Tom MacMaster was thinking when he started the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, or when he decided to have his fictional alter ego, “Amina Abdalla” kidnapped, thus mobilizing international support.

It was a disservice to the Syrian people (as well as the woman pictured left, whose identity was appropriated),  and a particular disservice to GLBT Syrians as well as Tal and other blogger-poets who really have been imprisoned by the regime in Syria and who really could use the mobilization of international support.

Arrests of real bloggers began long before the current protests. Young Tal al-Mallouhi, who was arrested last year, was sentenced to five years in prison this February, supposedly for “divulging information to a foreign state.”

Ghias Aljundi translated one of Tal’s poems, “You will remain an example,” for PEN International. The poem, dedicated to Gandhi, opens:

I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by

This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in a cloud
And a grave to protect me

Keep reading.

Also this week, over at Jadaliyya, Gaelle Raphael has translated an essay by celebrated Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). I don’t believe Qabbani spent any time in prison, although his father was imprisoned a number of times for his support of the resistance to the French mandate.

Here, Qabbani criticizes the Arab civil-servant poet, asserting that poets need to declare their independence from their states. He writes (trans. Raphael):

Writing is a daily game with death. Thus Hemingway understood literature, and thus Kafka, Lorca, Camus, and Mayakovski, and others who have lived their lives and writings in the isthmus between life and death.

And all this reminds me of Qabbani’s poem, “A Lesson In Drawing,” (translator not credited!) which begins:

My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
‘… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?’
And I tell him: ‘Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.’

Keep reading…

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  1. The Rebel (Bidrohi)
    Kazi Nazrul Islam
    Translation: Rezaul Karim Talukdar

    Proclaim Hero-
    Proclaim: My head is held towering
    Bows down the Himalayan peak, that at looking.
    Say Hero-
    Say: Tearing the firmament of the universe
    Outstripping the Moon, the Sun and the Stars
    Piercing the Earth and the celestial spheres
    Penetrating through the Almighty’s sacred throne
    Risen have I, the wonder eternal of the God’s universe.
    With the mark of majestic might
    The angry God on my forehead blazing bright!
    Say Hero-
    Say: My head is held ever towering!

    I am irrepressible, imperious and brutal
    I am the dancing lord of the great upheaval.
    I am the cyclone, the devastation tremendous
    I am terrible fear and the curse of the universe
    I am turbulent, I crash everything
    Wild I am, I trample under my feet all rules and binding.
    I obey no law, but mine
    I cause the loaded boats to capsize
    I am torpedo, I am the dreadful floating mine.
    I am the God Dhurjati-
    The ill timed hair disheveled typhoon of disaster,
    I am The Rebel the rebellious son of the global mother.
    Say Hero-
    Ever towering is my head!

    I am the hurricane, I am the whirlwind
    I smash everything on my path and leave behind.
    I am the dance-insane rhythm
    I dance on, with my own beat
    I am the heart liberated wit.
    I am the different musical modes
    I rock, I roll, on move I startle
    I whistle and swing on sharp notes.
    I do whatever this mind wants whenever
    I embrace the enemy and fight the death as a warrior.
    I am pestilence, the global terror
    I am the death of the dictator
    I am warm and restless forever.
    Say Hero-
    Ever high is my head!

    I am wine intoxicating
    The glass of my heart is ever filled
    With the wine sparkling.
    I am the flame of the sacrificial fire
    I am the God of fire, who keeps it burning.
    I am the sacrifice, I am the priest, I am the fire.
    I am creation, I am devastation
    I am habitation, I am the ground of cremation.
    I am the son of Indrani – the queen of the heaven
    The Moon on my arm and the Sun on my forehead have risen.
    In one hand of mine is the flute tender
    The war bugle I hold in the other.
    I am the Black-throated
    Having the poison churned up from the weeping sea
    I am the lord Bomkesh
    I hold the bridle of the Ganges-stream with me.
    Say Hero-
    Ever towering is my head!

    I am a saint, a soldier of music
    I am the prince in disguise
    With the dress of a hermit-mystic.
    I am a Bedouin, a Chengis the brute
    It is none, but me, I salute.
    I am thunder
    From the God ‘Iswan’s pipe, I am the mystic ‘Omker’
    Alas! from the bugle of ‘Israfil’, I am the roar danger.
    I am Bishyamitra’s disciple, Durbasha the furious
    I am the fury of forest fire
    I will burn to ashes this universe.
    I am the heart opening laughter
    I am the great anti-creation terror
    I am the Eclipse of the twelve Suns of the final disaster.
    Seldom I am quiet
    Seldom restless and wild, I am the blood-youth
    I snatch the God’s pride.
    I am the breath of typhoon, the ocean’s roaring rave
    I am radiant and flashing
    I am the murmur of stream, the swing of music of the wave.

    I am the unbraided hair of a virgin
    The flame of her arresting gaze
    I am the tender heart’s love of a lotus sixteen.
    I am the unconcerned mind of the indifferent
    I am the sigh in the widow’s heart, rending constant.
    I am the accumulated anguish of all the homeless sufferers
    The agony of the humiliated hearts
    I am the bitter sorrows of the estranged lovers.
    I am the distressed cry of a heart rending
    I am the first touch of a virgin trembling
    I am the heart throb of a passionate kiss stolen
    I am the secret lady-love’s glance twinkle
    Her bashful sidelong look
    I am the love of a maiden fickle
    Her bracelet’s sweet jingle.
    I am the eternal child, the everlasting youth
    I am the scarf of a village maid, afraid of her budding youth.
    I am the Northern breeze-
    From the Malabar range the mode ‘Purabi’ unconcern
    I am the deep notes from a bamboo flute of a poet pedestrian.
    I am the great summer thirst, I am the blazing Sun’s furies
    I am the murmuring desert spring-
    I am the chiaroscuro of an oasis.
    I rush forth as a crazy with bursting laughter
    Oh! I know myself today, all the barriers are broken forever.

    I am the rise, I am the fall, I am the consciousness in the soul unconscious
    I am the triumphal flag of humanity, over the arch of the universe.
    I rush like the clapping storm, holding the heaven and earth in hands
    The flying horse and the horse of ‘Indra’-the King God are my mounts

    I am the volcano in the bosom of earth, the submarine fire
    The fire of the universal annihilation
    I am the under-earth drunk on tumultuous sea of fire.
    Riding on the lightning, I fly with the joy profound
    I instill panic and cause sudden earthquake in the world around.

    I catch hold the hood of ‘Basuki’ the snake-king
    I clasp the heavenly angel Gabriel’s fiery wing.

    I am a heavenly child, I am restless, I am impudent
    I tear with my teeth the Mother-earth’s garment.
    I am the flute of Orpheus
    I cause the heaving sea sleepy
    With a kiss of sleep, I send the world in drowse.
    I am in bondage of the tune of flute
    I am the God Krishna’s flute.
    When I fly across the space with great anger
    The trembling seventh hell, extinguishes in fear
    I carry the revolt in the world all over.

    I am the monsoon rain-flood of erosion
    Sometime I fill the earth with adoration
    Sometime I cause the awful destruction.
    I will snatch the twin girls
    From the bosom of God ‘Vishnu’ who sustains the creation.
    I am injustice, I am meteor, I am the Saturn
    I am the burning Comet, the venomous hood of annihilation.
    I am the goddess ‘Chandi’ with the severed head
    I am the war-loving cause of the dead.
    Sitting in the hell of fire
    I smile the smile of a flower.

    I am earthly, I am spiritual
    I am ageless, undecaying and immortal.
    I am the terror of men, Gods and monsters
    I am the invincible power of this universe.
    I am the lord of the lords, ‘Vishnu’ the Supreme Being.
    Frantically I move around the heaven the hades and the earth churning.
    [**Two lines here from the original Bangla text seems to have been omitted here in the translation by the translator.; i.e. “I am mad, I am mad !!! / I now know myself and all my shackles and constraints have evaporated !!”**]

    I am the battleaxe of God ‘Parshuram’
    I shall exterminate the warriors
    And bring the noble peace to this universe.
    I am the plough on the shoulders of ‘Balaram’
    I shall uproot the subject-world with ease
    In the new creation of joy and peace.
    I the Great Rebel, shall be quiet on that day
    When the oppressed people’s wail on the sky and air will not resound
    The tyrant’s dreadful sword will not flash on the battle ground
    I, the Rebel, tired of battle, shall be quiet on that day.
    I am a Rebel ‘Vrigu’-
    I mark my footprint on the chest of the creator God
    I shall cut open the heart of the grief inflicting whimsical lord.
    I am the Hero, Rebel – eternal –
    Rose above the universe alone
    My head is ever Monumental.

  2. Thanks for letting me know…

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