‘A Drizzle of Bullets’: Poetry of Dissent in Sudan

Sudanese critic Lemya Shammat shares the poetry of Azhari Mohammad Ali as nationwide anti-austerity demonstrations continue across Sudan. As Shammat writes, “people have daringly chosen to risk their lives by flooding the streets to demonstrate and to have their voices heard”:

By Lemya Shammat

One of the most important characteristics of the poetry of Azhari Mohammad Ali is its tone is its simplicity and its sensitivity to the small details of everyday life, as well as its spontaneous involvement in the minute details of adversity, misery, and worry.

From which street can I reach you

when all paths are soiled

with viscous muck,

I’ll overstep all barriers to enter

through your words,

amid your pores I’ll pass

by any common denominator

any suggestion of resemblance

I’ll get in…

Azhari’s poetry has deservedly been described as an aesthetic project characterized by a deep awareness of the present moment and a second sight into the future, which might sometimes be alluded to by a reference to the legendary figure of Zarqa’ al-Yamama (The Blue-eyed One from Yamama‎) with its exceptional intuition and power of insight and futuristic prediction.

A drizzle of bullets to the head

of a damaged, corrupted power

will not dissuade or discourage the people —

if the desired turns are blocked

by the state of bullets, if many tents are installed

for the President’s Special Guards

covered in its vestments:

an affable and soulful youth was

saved for such a tumultuous day.

In your nightmarish darkness,

he saw the ruins of Soba* —

he watched a home being trampled —

with his blindfolded eyes

on a callous hard day,

everything plunged into chaos.

He was compelled to throw his notebook

so he bent to lift up a brick,

and could see the sniper’s beard

soaked in his own blood

The hardships of daily living represent an inexhaustible raw material for Azhari’s poetry that chooses to mirror the day-to-day circumstance and concerns, with its grievously taxing kinks and twists, as he writes with the dynamic memory of the people, with their breath and daily junctures.

We opened your door, homeland

for those who meant to enter,

and those who want to leave,

and we tied your name to melancholy,

fear and silence, and to a lump in the throat.

Our hopes in you are lost in vain.

Azhari established his creative project as a tool of consciousness, enlightenment, and commitment. This is particularly evident in the intimate coupling between the self and the public, and the union of the tributaries of the Nile of the poetic soul in its external and inward flow. His poems vividly depict the epic struggle of his people, the details of their lives with its insufferable physical and emotional toll. His poetry serves as a register for the vicious and inhumane injustices inflicted on them, and it also archives the hollow speeches, packs of lies, broken promises, and narrow self-interest of the morally bankrupt ruling class. It is a type of poetry that chooses to spearheaded change by distinctly describing the overwhelmingly ongoing political chaos, dysfunctional economics, the sucking-up of resources by the corrupt regime and the historical injustices and brutal expulsion of the population in the areas afflicted by war.

*Soba is the former capital of the medieval Nubian kingdom of Alodia also known as Alwa. It was totally destroyed and replaced by Sinnar.

Essayist, short-story writer, and critic Lemya Shammat has a PhD in English Language and Linguistics from Khartoum University and is an Assistant Professor at King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A member of the Sudanese Writers Union, Shammat has published a book on literary criticism and discourse analysis as well as a collection of short-short stories. She also translates between English and Arabic.