Thursday, 27 March 2014

Sabad World Poetry Festival, New Delhi
Reflections 4, World Poets, Politics

Najwan Darwish

Public Arena

Parts of the public arena are related to the same traditions as outlined before: ritual, prayer, the sense of communality on the basis of family, childhood and tribe. Tiziana Cera Rosco, for example, presented a long poem, consisting of two parts, about the Passion of Christ. She read fast and furious in Italian, in an outpouring of images and propositions that were between drama and prayer.

But beyond ritual, prayer and communality as comfort there is also the directly political. So Maram Al-Masri's poems address the condition of her native Syrian people. They are an act of identification, making claims on the hearer in terms of compassion, presenting an invitation to identify partly with the subject and partly with the poet. They want to raise consciousness and to highlight the humanity of the victims.

The Palestinian Najwan Darwish (his book in English is published by The New York Review of Books) invites the reader to share his passion for the Palestinian cause. He laments the loss of land and territory. He laments the dead, commemorates the murdered, and lambasts the guilty (Israel), speaking of 'Narcissus surrounded by Zionist lies', declaring in another poem 'To Hell, you occupiers, you and all your progeny' and, in one poem, dreams of reoccupying Haifa. The translations were excellent and his poetic gifts are apparent. He can write beautifully.

However, there is, in the poems, a clear victim and a clear criminal. There is no complexity about that. The poems are musical cries of pain and anger directed one way. Like Maram Al-Masri's poems they invite the reader and listener to participate. They do not invite agreement: they assume it and demand it.  It is revolutionary poetry in that sense. There is tenderness and gentleness directed towards those he writes for: there is only hatred towards those he attacks. The poems are acts of war by other means.

This raises a fascinating question about the role of passion and partisanship generally. We tend to admire passion in everyone, even in our opponents, providing that passion is articulated in terms we share, in symbols, registers, tones, and forms of musicality. But we can't go all the way with their work since we know it to be oppositional.

That is even more the case with the press. People who vote with what remains of the left will not pick up The Telegraph, let alone The Daily Mail. People on the right will avoid The Guardian and The Mirror, and will certainly not be subscribers to The Morning Star. They don't want the other view. They already have it tabbed, and feel certain they never have to listen to another word of it. What they need is constant confirmation of their views. Aesthetic matters are put aside. A well-written piece by the opposition remains anathema. Symbol, register and tone are of no interest.

In terms of the press I am fiercely opposed to the substance of some arguments and prefer not to indulge too heavily in their expression but I try to read across and understand the reasons why other perfectly reasonable human beings disagree with me. With poetry it should be different but, in the case of Darwish, I am clearly on the other side of the barricades. His dream of reclaiming Haifa - not part of the occupied territories - tells me everything. If I stood in his way he would do me harm.

I can't help but be aware of that fact when reading or listening to the poems. To those who agree with him he will be a hero. Those who have no strong view will nevertheless admire his passion and craft and may be swayed by it. As for me I acknowledge that this gifted poet, whose gifts I admire, wants me dead or at least living as if I were dead. And please don't argue the odds. That is the natural logic of the poems.  I myself have never written such poems. I doubt I could, I am far too fascinated by complexity and paradox, but there are a good many who love the act of passion in itself and for itself. Everyone loves righteous anger and longs for something of Swift's saeva indignatio. It is, after all, exciting: it sets the pulse racing and the blood boiling.

And how beautiful and gentle those cadences are when turned to those the poet loves. How good to be loved by him.

He did not speak to me in the festival, nor I to him. There was no need to.

I may write one more blog on the festival.


The gender balance among the 'world poets' was much more balanced: 12 men to 10 women. The nationalities included Spanish (1), Bangladeshi (1) UK (2, one of them myself), French (1), Seychelles (1), Austrian / Swiss (1), Norwegian (1), Sri Lankan (1), Australian (1), Irish (2), Philippine (1) Syrian / French (1), Czech (1), Palestinian (1), Macedonian (1), Danish (1), Nigerian (1), Italian (1). Nepalese (1) and Cuban (1).


Denni Turp said...

That's very sad for both of you, as it is always sad that children are not taught to question points of view that they are presented with by adults, and to look at all arguments for and against and independently seek evidence that verifies whatever truth can be found in the world. The two of you would never have agreed, but wouldn't it be wonderful if any of us with divergent (and passionately held) beliefs about the world we live in could talk to each other rationally and with recognition of a shared humanity? As you said elsewhere, don't answer (it's clearly a highly rhetorical question!).

George S said...

It is sad, but I don't see quite what we could have said in the circumstances. There were over forty poets present in different places. I never saw him at the hotel and the rest of the time it was crowds after crowds, a place of broken conversations unless one stayed up very late in an agreed place. In any case, what he wrote was beyond argument. He read the piece about about being an Arab in an international context, which, at the end, included a Jew. It was his one gesture. But the refence to Haifa was about repossessing Israel as a whole.