A Personal Vision of Poetry

Amal al-Jubburi

I belong to a generation the critics labled the "‘80s generation," later known as the "war generation." This name referred to the war with Iran, and to the war of 1990, a war of global proportions-experiences making us a generation born out of the heart of wars.

"I was a messenger to her city Baghdad, the city where One Thousand and One Nights was written hundreds of years ago. When it was first written, this classic evoked ideas of pleasure and fantasy, stories of magic and romance, but the same classic is being re-written these days, now representing pain, wars, sanctions, hunger, and repression"

Most of this generation's poets attempted to break away from the metrical poem, metered verse, and to move toward the prose poem, a new school of poetry that has generated much debate within the Arab cultural scene for half a century. The conservatives consider the prose poem a hybrid genre, a model imported from the West and therefore a threat to the spirit of the Arab poem. In my opinion, the prose poem has gained its legitimacy, first because it is poetry, and now because it has become an integral part of Arab poetry. Prose is not, as the traditionalists argue, the downfall of the poet. Poetry materializes more frequently in this form than it does in metered and rhythmical poems. Poetry is like desire that is difficult to recreate in a disturbing, tense moment.

Poetry is a surprise; I approach it with astonishment. Poems as recreate interpretation, develop meanings, and unsettle convictions. The rhythm I make out of the sounds of the words is not only verbal but also visual, and because poetry is a rebellious creature, violating every law and challenging all authorities, how could I confine it to the meters of traditional poetry? Meter thrills me, but with the thrill of a child being carefully supervised at the playground. The Arabic language is so rich that it surpasses any limitation.

In most of the poetry I write, I have depended on the internal rhythm of the words and the echoes of their individual syllables. This creates a harmonic marriage with the psychological content, forming rhythm without a deliberate decision. I believe this is much more difficult to achieve than the ready-made verse meters, which are largely governed by logic. The logic of poetry should not fall under the jurisdiction of any authority except that of poetry.

Some critics consider prose text an invasion of the realm of the poem, and thus a triumph of the novel over poetry. They declare this the age of the novel. However, one needs to pause and ask if the criteria used to reach this conclusion is quantitative. Poetry should be exempt from such standards, for throughout history it has been the memory of the people, offering the salvation of society.

If poetry readers are a minority, they are a vast and uncountable minority, as poet Juan Ramon called it. Even with the silent reading of poetry replacing podium reading, this very change establishes the real victory of poetry.

Perhaps part of the crisis lies in the ambivalence of the readers, increasingly influenced by the market of mass consumption. The logic of supply and demand does not apply to literature, which American poet Ezra Pound commented on in a letter sent to a young writer: "Nothing written for pay has a value; the real value of the written product is contrary to all the requirements of the market."

It never occurred to me that I would someday find myself isolated like a nun in a Bavarian convent. At that distance, I delved into the traditions of the land of Babel and Sumer. I was drawn into the chants of Ankhadwana, the adventures of Ashtar, and the West, all of which I embodied in my poems written in Germany, the land of the great poet Goethe. I became a priest of poetry, attempting to make my secret religion out of the language. I was a messenger to her city Baghdad, the city where "One Thousand and One Nights" was written hundreds of years ago. When it was first written, this classic evoked ideas of pleasure and fantasy, stories of magic and romance, but the same classic is being re-written these days, now representing pain, wars, sanctions, hunger, and repression.

Slogans and speeches wounded language in the Arab world. That wounded language has lodged itself in my body, compelling me to improve my life through what I write, and my writings through my life.

I disguised myself in Ankhadwana's character in most of my writings. I called my new poetry collection "Ankhadwana Priest of Exile" in its English translation, and perhaps in the German, but the collection's name in Arabic is "This Body Belongs to You...Need Not Be Concerned About Me." This title is somewhat daring in the Arab world because tradition persists in its attempts to negate the body. For example, if we read "The Song of Songs" we will find a flood of desire and sensitivity, which some insist on interpreting as a love letter from Jehovah to Israel. I have done just the opposite. I have set a trap for the readers who have been trained to read poets through their names, colors, ideologies, and the rumors which made them either saints or devils, denying themselves the knowledge of what poets really say.

The reader who would dare dream of the physical realm will have his desire blocked by the painful isolation that is my life, where Ankhadwana is writing the story of her exile from Ore and her poems are transformed into the prayers and laws of her secret religion.

Even if some of my poems are a feminist defeat, talking only to the self, they are in fact a defeat of man, a defeat of the world. "What does it mean to be a citizen in official records while pursued as a fugitive as a human being?" This is what I wrote in my first collection of poetry when I was barely 19 years old. I was trying to translate my detachment from the Self to become more attached with the Poet who dreams of covering the ashes of this world with violets.

Writing in the Arab world remains a masculine realm in which it is difficult to accept women transferring the traditional fertility of their bellies to their minds. Thus literature is classified into categories-feminist literature, masculine literature, and perhaps some other new genres to appear later in this century.

However, a woman writes not because of her gender but because of her humanity. She is not a secondary creature selected by nature to perform the function of reproduction. In such a role she becomes nothing but another device for men's pleasure, and whenever she attempts to be equal to man she cannot escape without immense sacrifices and losses. I always used to ask this question: What will I lose by being a woman poet?

My response is that poetry itself is a great loss. It is enough to present wounds, memories, regret, and importantly, your inner feelings, either sweet or bitter, to others on a plate. My consolation is that this is my only loss, my gamble in life because it makes me renew, grow, and overcome myself. Death does not threaten me in my steps toward the world of poetry, but rather life. Poetry will forever be my open eyes. AJ

This article appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 6, No. 31 ( Spring 2000)
Copyright © 2000 by Al Jadid