Wadi’ Al-Obaydi:The Memory of Place and Provocations (Evocations) of Childhood

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    Wadi’ Al-Obaydi:The Memory of Place and Provocations (Evocations) of Childhood

    مُساهمة  Admin في الإثنين أبريل 22, 2013 8:39 pm



    The Memory of Place and Provocations (Evocations) of Childhood: The Autumn of Minarets by Iraqi poet Basim Furat
    Translated from Arabic by Yahya Haidar

    In contemporary Iraqi poetry, home, exile and humanity are words which recur time and time again. For modern Iraqi poets, intellectual insight is a marker of their creative achievements, and through this they come closer to “the place”, merging with it, and eventually bringing about a unity of the, apparently oppositional, poetic and the material aspects of life.

    This attitude towards place extends beyond the common superficial interpretation of nostalgia and strives to fabricate a new conception of “Home”, whose widened confines can accommodate the ever-shifting parameters of self/man and nature/existence. This has its basis in a good geographical acquaintance along with a self-centred material being, both of which are embodied in the relationship of the poet with his homeland.

    This obsessive treatment of self and home is a natural product of a constant feeling of bereavement and uprootedness. This poetic preoccupation can be expressed through the two mediums: that of space (material being) and of the human self; which both intermingle and interfuse in an image of childhood rich in similes and nuances though ravaged by endless years of sanctions and war.

    The theme of childhood, with all its entangled webs of meaning, is the core around which revolve the poems in The Autumn of Minarets by Basim Furat, making it a song of mourning in memory of Home, mother, and even the city of Karbala’a – the poet’s hometown. Furat is an Iraqi poet, who is resident in Wellington, New Zealand. The Autumn of Minarets (2002) is his second book of poetry, following The Vehemence of Cooing (1999).

    Childhood is at the heart of Furat’s poetry and through it he attempts to evoke the memories of place – reality being perceived through a gaze of intellectual insight. For childhood is connected to its environment and therefore inseparably bound up with space and time. Because of this the present collection is neatly explicable within the framework of two categories: the poet’s childhood and the memory of place.


    One: The Poet’s Childhood

    No dream drains my childhood
    In wreckage you are
    Rubbing bombers and trenches (9)

    Unbuttoned now is his shirt. I read:
    Childhood is endlessly ramifying questions (17)

    In the footsteps of a childhood I walk,
    Picking up what is run over by tanks;
    Dreams of peacetimes (17)

    A childhood I caught a glimpse of;
    A firebrand bespeaking a rose (24)

    The story of my boyhood I inscribe
    In the square of the two sanctuaries (54)

    I left on the map of my childhood
    Innocence stabbed by the decadence of the army (58)

    1/3/1967 is the date in which the poet was born, and which is also used as title for one of the poems in the collection.

    Connected with the idea of childhood in this collection is the image of the mother. When Furat employs the image of the mother, it brings to mind its associates: the thoughts of fatherhood, dreams, memory and the fleeting years:

    My father; a mistake reproducing itself
    My mother; a mistake, heedlessly awaits
    That which is a mistake
    I am a mistake counting my steps
    And committing mistakes (12)

    Or when he says:

    On my mother’s black attire I inscribe
    A history of a people from the south
    And hopelessly I see myself try
    To caress away the coffins of days
    Streaming over her hair
    The tomb of years lies over the asphalt of memory
    Full of scars from wars (16)

    Father, O father
    Every time I think deeply of your death
    By you sand is put down on my dreams (18)

    My mother lit thirteen lanterns
    Furnishing for my doom to wait (24)

    In the above quotation, the number 13 is used not merely for the pessimism it implies, but also to make reference to the age of the poet as the Iraq–Iran war was looming in (1980).

    And as the windows of anticipation got old
    I set aflame what was left for the journey
    On every door a black flag
    Fracturing the masculinity of daytime
    Enough of your breeding O misfortune (24)

    It is unmistakable that the self features very prominently in the modern poem, to the point that its absence would undermine the very being of the poem itself. This ubiquitous presence of the self in all its forms can be seen as a logical response to the calamity that seeks the end of man; to uproot him by way of exile, metamorphosis, or even death. Here the self of the poet is in fact a kind of collective, all-encompassing self, which is under threat of extinction through wars and disasters, which have been trying to get the best of the “land of black” (Iraq) to the present day. The “I” in this context is a coronation of the misery of humanity as an after effect of disaster.

    Funeral encloses our lives
    Whereon I try – in vain – to break a window of light
    But all I see
    Is a dimly beaming crack (16)

    Or this imagery of the self articulated through kind of interrupted, prematurely weaned childhood:

    I am not the last to return
    From the caravan of solitude
    And because I have no glories bejeweling my life
    My dreams abandoned me
    My sighs were suspended
    On window and on doors
    I left my defeats (14-15)

    Stricken; by shards of bombs
    Bleeding my body seeks shelter
    In the coffee of exile
    I have no pleasures nor glories
    Dreams …
    My dreams put me down
    Forlorn in the farthest of lands
    Consoled by my tragedy
    And led by my ruins
    In the footsteps of a childhood I walk,
    Picking up what is run over by tanks;
    Dreams of peacetimes (17)

    In these poems the expressions of wish, dream, woman, glory, life, peace etc are out of reach, transitioning from the state of temporary suspension to being altogether cancelled.

    I was the only one defeated in the wars
    I reluctantly suspended them
    And went looking for me
    My life hanging on the tip of a bullet
    Hanging from a distant sky
    My fingers; ruins of lost cities
    And the seal of the dead is my movement
    Await me, O sun (32-33)

    The modern poem is one of devotion to the self: it is a topical, thoughtful piece of writing endlessly generating of questions, and striving to free itself of all gaps. It is a poem that emanates from itself, never awaits for the poet to ascend to its heights. It might be a poem of disaster, misery, pessimism, or even chaos and death, which is invariably reproducing itself given the melancholy of the experienced reality, but it, in return, transcends all of this through its unbounded, humanistic outreach. In tandem with its persistent concern with disaster and calamity, there is still a definite perseverance to dream and an insistence to smile despite the war-stricken generations’ almost complete surrender to death. As poet Hassan Nassar put it, ‘I need many things/First and foremost, me’, and as Basim Furat writes:

    I am the Sumerian
    Full of dreams and questions (13)

    I am myself a heaven and its apocalypse
    Lovingly I point to the basil plants,
    Gently the fields flow over my bed
    And banks utter their sighs beside me (14)

    The last poem in the collection, which has for its title the date of birth of the poet, represents the climax of all of his attempts to gather the shards and fragments of that childhood, and to reframe it, and re-admit it into the storeroom of memory:

    My eyes are tearful
    And on my lips defeats and glories of wars
    Won by a people unknown
    I dare not come near
    But, my heart is yearning
    Thefts have crushed my memory
    And into a ragged shirt prison cells have turned me
    Exile flow over my shoulders
    Through windows I glimpse
    The questions of those who have left me
    My suns break in the basket of pain
    And my neighs flow before they arrive
    I am Basim Furat, O Allah do you know me?
    Police stations are tattooed on my youth
    And my mother does not notice
    The splinters when she combs my youth
    Dissolving wax and myrtle over my dawn
    Sweeping warplanes with her black attire
    - Reminiscent of my days -
    She draws me as she wishes
    Was it because I carried home in the pocket of my shirt?
    And under my tongue two rivers flowed
    Running behind my death and my corpse follows me
    My land is a prolonged autumn
    Flowing with nausea,
    A lustrous daytime hides under the hat
    And on your chest questions unfold (64-66)


    Two: Memory of Place

    When the poem speaks of an ill-fated childhood, it also invokes place as an equally wretched allusion. Furat, through his interest in the high intensification of language, helps us gain access to his world through the titles of his poems, beginning with the main title of the collection, The Autumn of Minarets, which refers to the panorama of the Iraqi city of Karbala’a. The titles of the poems paint vivid images of the city sunken in sadness: ‘To Language of the Light I Lead the Candles’; ‘I Embraced a Tower Thinking it a Minaret’ ‘O Blackness, Lead Me’; ‘Living by Wounds’; ‘I Say a Female, and Don’t Mean Karbala’a’; ‘The Howl of the Fox’; ‘Spring of Darkness’. There is a common thread that runs through these titles: the evocation of a spirited Houssaynia procession – a religious ceremony that takes place in the city of Karbala’a – and the inspired caravans of Ashura. It is as though they constituted the poet’s gaze through which he sees his world, including us, his readers.

    On the doorstep I still stand
    Rust permeates your doors
    Wakeful, she indifferently waves
    They pierced your shirt with the myrtle
    And forgot your wound on the table
    In the same way you forgot your days
    Your guard their strides
    On their fingers henna learnt how to dance (30-31)

    Besides the henna, myrtle, wax, palms, and doorsteps, doors, windows and balconies take a special place in the Ashurian setting. In the poem ‘I Crossed the Borders Incidentally’ (Accidentally?), defeats and bomb splinters substitute candles and henna respectively:

    The smell of splinters
    Nausea extends itself
    I drag my frequent defeats
    And line them up on the table (32)

    The ashes of these wars sealed my soul
    And dried the oil of my childhood at the door
    The doors released me (33)

    My dust permeates windows and questions (34)

    Exhausted are the doors of the house from crying
    And my mother’s Aba a flag hopelessly waving
    Without hope I will walk through the times (41)

    The sadness of the poet’s widowed mother is vividly expressed by equating it with a tragedy from the history of Karbala’a: the battle of Al-Tuff. In the poem ‘The Howl of the Fox’, this interconnection of two events which share the same sentiment is an attempt to forge a third, hollowed time in there is a sobering realization of the ceaseless reproduction and repetition of such drama through the ages:

    The dead at the Tufuf prolonged my sadness
    And abandoned me to eternal grief
    Carrying books of saffron
    And hides other made of priceless gems
    To the prison of Al-sindi wherein my father lies
    Father, who fought a hundred battles
    From the birth of the original sin
    To the rebellion of nuclear tribes
    She carried and sun and moon and eleven wishes
    To sharpen his determination
    And once my father is killed and his head slants
    Wipes the Al-‘alkamy my tears and absconds
    With two balm glowing with greenness and regret
    Ascends the hill to witness the howl of the fox
    Echoing in the city
    Work of the last of murderers
    And when they showed his head around cities
    Ornamented my mum (mother?) the face of the Caliph
    With her spit (48)

    The poet uses the past tense, ornamented, which is in Arabic different only by one letter from the name of the revered historical character of Zaynab, who in fact spits on the caliph’s face in the account of the war from the historical saga of Al-Tuff.

    By employing the drama of Al-Tuff, the poet was able to open it as a window to the present with its similar themes of disaster and misery. In the process a unity between the personal state and the general in the poem is attained, giving The Autumn of Minarets a high degree of eloquence, depth and truthfulness. From intensification of language to richness of metaphors, from pain to wounded dreams, it is Basim Furat’s unique reading of the calamity that bent the mountains. It hangs by a thread of ravaged childhood and a devastated home, by mothers, the hometown, and uprooted dreams.


      الوقت/التاريخ الآن هو السبت نوفمبر 17, 2018 10:29 am