Kamal Al-Jizouli and Sudanese Sound Poetry

The poetry of Kamal Al-Jizouli — who is also a human rights lawyer, arrested in January of this year, and part of a team who launched a case against members of the Bashir regime — pops and bristles with his iconic and vibrant marriage of pictorial and auditory:

By Lemya Shammat

Sudanese poet, writer and researcher Kamal Al-Jizouli was born in Omdurman in 1947, which is also where he received his education. He earned his Master’s of Law in 1973, with a specialization in International Law, from the then-Soviet University of Ukraine. He also has a degree in translation from the same university. His cultural and intellectual contributions include many scientific papers presented in conferences, symposia, seminars, and workshops inside Sudan and abroad in the fields of culture, literature, politics, law, and human rights. He has published several books and collections of poetry, including Omdurman Comes on the Eighth Train, Diary from Omdurman, The Mountainous Poem, and The Gust of the Wind Behind a Rusty Gate, which cover the 1970s to the 1990s and have been issued collectively as a complete set.

The most distinctive feature of Al-Jizouli’s poetic scheme is his employment of both sound and visual structures. His poems are at once witty, fresh, and baffling, and a flow of lively scenes and images, associated with diverse sonic textures that gush unceasingly throughout his poetic texts.

Workers, police officers, and sentinels

perhaps returning from the night shift,

perhaps reporting to the one yet to come.

Oblivious boys in landfills,

dreaming of God

His complex interior and exterior everyday settings, together with powerful evocations of poverty, suggest the laborious and wearisome life that resounds with echoes of Lorca in his compassionate sympathy with the impoverished and the destitute: “they are fully aware that they ever head in to a fruitless toil.”

In contrast, the theme of morning flickers optimistically through his poems:

The darkest hour of night

comes before the dawn,

to be swept off by the flood

of the light

after a while!

Careful attention is given to sonic patterns, and oral/aural effects are employed to their maximum expressive and dramatic impact. The texts overflow with careful descriptions of acoustic nuance, reverberating with echoes of both the natural environment and the activities of daily life. A poem brims first with a forceful downpour, followed by soft, tamed sounds,  resembling Khartoum’s twin-Nile miracle where the thundering roar of the Blue Nile meets the sleepy sigh of the White.

The poet captures the subtle differences between sounds and their impact upon the senses. For example, in the opening of one of his poems, the quivers and vibrations of the semantic nucleus of the sixth letter of the Arabic alphabet, ح,  convey a vague sense of sorrow and bleak shades of bitterness.

Dream  حلم    

Salt     ملح           

Wound جرح      

Coffin    تابوت

The texts are remarkable not only for their vigorous and colourful auditory details and textures, but also for providing an encyclopedic sonic range and diversity. There are unconventional collocations and references: “the wind that rattles its way into the leaves, the clap of the dragonflies’ wings, the barking of homeless dogs and agonizing meow of cats’ empty stomachs, the whistling of the wind in the corners, the sigh of a palm tree in water, the shiver of bare trees in the cold dusk, and the trudging thud of a lumberjack amidst a jungle of sounds.”

Aj-Jizouli’s interest in the wealth of human vocalizations is evident in his employment of these flexible vocal resonators with their sensory impressions: gurgling, grunts, murmurs, whispers, giggling, sobs, yawning, and coughs that play a crucial role in the meaning-making of his dense aural portraits. Onomatopoeic representations are also exploited for their sonic and semantic potential, and they rattle, chatter, swish, squeak, whiz and hum through the poems.

The texts’ polyphonic nature is vividly expressed through the author’s preoccupation with the quality of sound. Keen and attentive to both cultural and natural auditory documentation, Kamal Al-Jizouli’s poetic texts are made of different environmental auditory surroundings, conversational exchanges, nonlinguistic vocalizations, bursts and interjections, animal noises, and modernity’s clamor, where they are creatively employed to capture a distinctive cultural sonic production and to further explore its special acoustic perception, emotive content, and conceptualization.

Like the generosity of an insistently lavish sheikh

Like the chanting exultation of a call to prayer

Or like a lisp of a rural-tongued girl

More on ArabLit by Lemya Shammat:

Against Erasure: Art and Sudan’s Sit-in

The Microfictions of Sudanese Writer Fatima As-Sanoussi

The Popular Art and Poetry of Sudanese Protesters

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

The Unique Wordplay of Sudanese Writer Bushra Al-Fadil

Reflecting on Abdel Goddous Al-Khatim’s ‘Reflections On Sudanese Culture’

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, and her work appears in ArabLit Quarterly.