Terry Locke: Here and There

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    تاريخ التسجيل : 14/09/2010

    Terry Locke: Here and There

    مُساهمة  Admin في الخميس أبريل 25, 2013 2:25 pm

    Here and There by Basim Furat. Wellington: HeadworX, 2004. RRP: $19.95

    On a number of counts, the publication of Here and There is a major event in New Zealand poetry. And once again, Mark Pirie and HeadworX deserve commendation for bringing it about. Here and There is the first book of Arabic poetry to be translated into English and published in New Zealand. At a time when the “Arabic” world is entering the minds of Westerners via a variety of discursive lenses, some of them hostile, it is helpful to have this world mediated for us by Furat and his four translators (Muhiddein Assaf, Abbas El Sheikh, Abdul Monem Nasser and Yahya Haider).
    The cover of the book juxtaposes a photograph of the Wellington harbourside with that of a domed mosque and minaret, perhaps from Furat’s birthplace of Karbalaa in Iraq. Most New Zealanders will have no problem in reading the architectural forms in the Wellington photograph. But the landscape on the right demands a kind of literacy (in the broadest sense of this word) that most of us don’t have. We can describe the form and the detail, but we lack the acculturation that enables us to be adequate readers. In terms of the title of this book, Furat’s “There” is a world that we are estranged from, just as his “Here” is our familiar and a reminder to him of his exile.
    Readers of this book hoping that Furat will offer a point of entry into Arabic experience as a helpful guide will be disappointed. This is not a guidebook to war-torn Iraq full of helpful hints for visitors. Rather, one might think of it as a rich, exotic, unfolding tapestry that is much more lyrical in intent than narrative. You might compare it to richly patterned wallpaper or rug, or a complex mosaic. Here is a passage from “The Autumn of Minarets”:
    My exit is through Salalimah gate
    Like a dutiful son I salute
    And pilgrimage to the infinite
    To my right, the tree of eternity
    To my left, the two severed hands of Al-Abbas
    Waving to me after dark
    By thirst and yearning
    In front of me, domes shrouded in gold
    Minarets falling asleep in the palms of heaven
    Time and stars tickle their eyelids
    Doors inlaid in gold and silver
    Palms of wailing mothers, adorned with Henna, are bleeding in lament
    From the glossary at the back of Arabic words, we learn that Salalimah Gate is a suburb in Karbalaa where Furat lived. We are also told that Al Abbas Road is the main road of Karbalaa’s CBD. But this information is a poor substitute for insider knowledge. The sort of insider knowledge that the glossary doesn’t provide is that Imam Al-Abbas was the brother of Imam Al-Hussein, whose shrine in Karbalaa is Iraq’s second-holiest for Shi’ite Muslims, and that both brothers were killed in 684 AD at the hands of the Umayyads. Nor does it tell us that body painting with henna (a body dye paste created by grinding parts of the henna plant with hot water) has been part of Middle Eastern life since the 12th Century and that it is a symbol of good luck.
    While this small part of a larger poem appears to be centred on an event, a man leaving a city and taking in his surroundings as he goes, the environment is highly symbolic and replete with cultural associations. For all this, something comes through – a tone of yearning and lament. Even with an outsider’s knowledge of one or two emblems (gleaned from the Internet), one gets an acute sense of time expanding. Suffering, injustice, persecution are always with us. Women are often the innocent victims of violence. Hands can beg, bless, heal and kill. The up-facing palm is different from the raised fist.
    Having started with a close-up, let me move to a wide view of the text. The book is in three sections. The first (as I read it) locates the poet in exile here in New Zealand. In the book’s title poem we find the lines:
    Your cities are replete with women and flowers
    With winds that mar their silence
    And on their sides beaches revolt
    And trees, alarmed and baffled, look at me
    I am overburdened with agonies
    My homeland knocks nightly on my door
    Should I open it?
    I, running away impetuously
    From the narcissism of wars…
    This is the New Zealand landscape through an Iraqi exile’s lens, where beaches become insurgents (to use the current appellation). Here we find poems about border crossings, and poems that evoke the violence that the exile has left but not left behind.
    The second section might be thought of as love poems. But apart from the last, written for Furat’s wife, Jeanette, they have at atmosphere that is rare in New Zealand poetry. (My contemporary comparison would be David Howard.) A poem to start with might be “A Cold Lesson at the End of Love”. It begins:
    You laugh
    This is what you know:
    I offered my solicitudes, feelings and madness
    On a plate of jasmine served by Narcissus
    And you turned your feelings away from me…
    The stance and tonality we have here has a long tradition, going back to the troubadours of Provence and the courtly love rituals that were practised. Furat is not a courtly lover, but there is a resonating tone here of yearning and despair. The courtly lover’s role was to suffer and the role of the (married and therefore unattainable) mistress was to ignore and contemn. What distinguishes poems like this from, say, a Wyatt sonnet, is that the lady tends to etherialise and become transfigured into something larger than a flesh and blood, disdainful dame:
    You are my home, are you not?
    Oh, you my pain and the pain
    Of the bought country
    You are the whole of my sadness
    And the sadness itself
    I fear for you to be protected from yourself and myself….
    The addressee could be a woman, but it could equally be Iraq. In a moment, the exile and the lover merge. (I’d be curious to know whether the Arabic could equally have been translated into “sold” rather than “bought”.)
    Finally, in the last section of the book, we find poems which offer a redemptive way forward, beginning with defeat (“My Rank: Defeated), and ending with the continuing pilgrimage with “Blackness” as guide and the role of poet (even in defeat) as vocation. If, as an English teacher, you have a culturally diverse classroom, or a number of Muslim students, then I suggest you buy this book. Or if you happen to love poetry and would be interested in joining the pilgrimage in words of an Iraqi in exile, I equally recommend it.
    Postscript: Schools with significant numbers of new settlers and refugees should be aware of a resource entitled "Creativity in Exile", which is a booklet and DVD intended to increase public awareness of the astonishing creativity which so many refugees and migrants contribute to the country in which they settle. This resource is free and may be obtained on request to Mike Hanne, Programme in Comparative Literature, University of Auckland, PB 92019, Auckland (Email: m.hanne@auckland.ac.nz).


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