“People,” by the Syrian poet and artist Munther Masri, was collected in Masri’s 2011 collection, The Echo that Made a Mistake:

Poet-translator-physician Fady Joudah writes that Syrian poet-translator-pathologist Golan Haji sent him this poem “as solace.”

Munther Masri was born in Latakia in 1949, to an Egyptian father and Syrian mother, and he continues to live in Latakia. In addition to being a poet, he is also a visual artist.

As a brief profile on Lyrik-line states, “Since emerging as a poet at the end of the 1970s, he has consistently maintained his artistic independence from the poetic ideas of his generation. He rejects expectations imposed from outside in terms of form and content. He writes a kind of ‘counter-poetry’, poetry which names and lays bare the subjective in defiance of conventions about what should be permitted.”

Joudah writes, in his introduction to his translation of on the Los Angeles Review of Books: “People have always asked what poetry is. ‘People’ is a poem that needs no historical occasion to illuminate an answer to this timeless, insatiable question. And yet, in these eventful days, the answer is a poem for the people, of the people, and by them, written in the past by a solitary poet who comes from the future.”

The poem works against the oft-repeated “hell is other people,” weaving a different and insistent picture. From the first stanza:

Don’t say such foolish things about people.

What are you

if not for people.

And these words I’m about to speak to you

are earrings you wear, no,

are a buzzing insect

in your middle ear:

you’re nothing

without people.

Read the whole poem at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and find more poetry by Masri in Arabic and German translation at Lyrik-line.

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