By Adil Babakir
Sudanese poet Kamal Elgizouli, who passed away in the early hours of Monday, November 6 in Cairo, will be remembered in his country and abroad for his unequivocal stance for human rights. He devoted all his career as a lawyer and activist, and his fathomless creative talent as a poet and writer, to defending his people’s aspirations for justice and democracy.
Born in Omdurman, Sudan, in 1947, he obtained a Master’s of Law from the College of International Law and International Relations of the Kiev Governmental University in 1973. His return home coincided with a volatile era in Sudan’s history. Tension was still in the air following the 1971 bloody events, when the May dictatorship butchered many of the communist party’s senior leadership in the aftermath of their aborted coup against President Nimeiri.
Elgizouli was in and out of prison several times during the mid-1970s and early 80s, and later in the early 90s following the Islamists’ coup. Those eventful times have had their imprint on his poetry. Incarceration and persecution featured prominently across his critically acclaimed collection Omdurman Comes on the Eight O’clock Train. In the following piece, the poet describes his emotions in response to imminent threat as he remained locked in a security cell.
It’s not murder that I dread.
Not even a tragic end.
Nor this door being blown down outright,
or them storming in at midnight,
their naked guns in full sight.
Not festering wounds, streams of blood,
or the wall dotted with fragments of my skull.
What I fear the most, I have to say,
is fear per se:
that devious and elusive thing,
that in a twinkling
can sneak in,
whispering deluding excuses—temptingly fancy,
while stealthily injecting weakness and despondency
into the inner pores of my soul.
That elegant, eye-catching thing
luring me into watching its glaring blade.
And once, for a second or two,
I am dazzled by the glow,
it slips in,
splitting me into two:
A half up there—in its illusionary world,
And a half down here,
You are destined to die—and so are they.
No one is exempt.
So voice your rejection right here!
Out there, your defiant voice will come out,
pretty strong and vocal.
to live there!
A good portion of Elgizouli’s poetry reflects genuine sympathy with the less privileged, downtrodden segments of the society. Here is one example:
In the late hours of the night,
off the fence of the Grand Mosque,
a male leper, shabby and frail,
stealthily creeps onto the bosom of a fellow leper
just as shabby and frail-
And they embrace.
With palms as camel’s hoofs
and three timber-dry arms,
in the wee hours of the night,
off the fence of the Grand Mosque.
But the last passerby,
who airs his belly on the floor
and goes on his way,
is too drunk and drowsy to see
he has just blown off an intimate moment—bitterly fought for.
Besides his poetry collections, Elgizouli has six other books and hundreds of published articles and research papers on diverse topics ranging from culture and politics, literature and literary criticism, to issues of peace, democracy, civil war, and human rights. Some of his poetry and fiction was translated into English, Russian, and Ukrainian languages.
Elgizouli was a founding member of the Sudanese Writers’ Union and served as its secretary-general until 2007. He is Pen International laureate and honorary member of its London office.
Note: Both poems first appeared in the author’s book Modern Sudanese Poetry: an Anthology, University of Nebraska Press, 2019.
Adil Babikir is a translator and an Arabic content manager at Mubadala Investment Company in Abu Dhabi. He has translated and edited several works, including Modern Sudanese Poetry: An Anthology (Nebraska, 2019) and Mansi: A Rare Man in His Own Way, by Tayeb Salih.