Politicians on Poetry (and Cigarettes)

It was one thing, of course, when the Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb found he had something to say about poetry. After all, he began his career as a literary critic. But when the now ruling-party FJP newspaper steps out against a Lebanese poetry collection because…it promotes smoking? 

Several news sources assert that copies of Paul Shaoul’s A Packet of Cigarette Papers were seized after an article appeared in the official FJP paper shouting: “Ministry of Culture Encourages Smoking“(!). Mohammad Shoair writes in Al Akhbar that, despite appearances, this is not a joke, and Shaoul’s work is under real threat. But Ahram Online’s  Mary Mourad assures readers that the book is still available across the country.

Apparently, celebrated Lebanese playwright and poet Paul Shaoul’s latest collection takes smoking as its main subject. AO quotes critic Ashraf Attia as likening Shaoul’s attempt to explain smoking in  great detail “to Russian attempts to ‘defamiliarise’ everyday objects and approach them in a new way.” And: “Reading from the collection, Attia paused at the section where Shaoul describes his hatred of clean ashtrays that appear to be ‘without memory.'”

It is certainly ludicrous — in a country where smoking is nearly as common as breathing, and where the ruling FJP does not seem to have taken steps to, for instance, effectively ban smoking from hospitals or schools — that some would take aim at a collection of poetry. But presumably it represents an attitude toward books: That they should appear to be clean-minded and directly promote good living (smiling at the neighbors, sweeping the front stoop, cleaning under one’s fingernails) before all else.

Next: An attack on Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth because the protagonist spies on his father, or an attack on Ibrahim Aslan’s Two-room Apartment because the protagonist watches too much TV.