Meanderings & mawqifs of poetry, poetics, translations y mas. Travelogue too.

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2014: Year of the Arabic Poem (in Translation)

December 17th, 2014 · Uncategorized

via Arabic Literature (in English):

There were at least nine contemporary Arabic poetry collections published in translation this year, a number of them stunning, ground-breaking, beautifully produced:

Certainly there were more novels than poetry collections — I have yet to do a full tally, but there are always many more novels. Yet to have nine poetry collections translated in a year is an enormous jump, although distribution and readership is another thing entirely.

1Nothing More to Lose, Najwan Darwish, ed. and trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid (NYRB). This is the first collection of Palestinian Najwan Darwish’s poems to appear in English, chosen and curated by Abu-Zeid (a task he clearly enjoyed), and it was the most widely discussed and reviewed among this year’s collections, making NPR’s best-of list for 2014 and earning Abu-Zeid a Poetry magazine translation award.

Abu-Zeid wrote, in his afterword, that “No Palestinian has ever written poetry quite like this before.” Yet there are echoes of the poetry-audience relationship of elder Palestinian poets, particularly when one sees Darwish’s poetry set to music and delighting hundreds of concert-goers, who recite along.

Darwish’s poetry is also fresh — personal, funny, angry, political (at a slant), and direct.

2Petra, Amjad Nasser, trans. Fady Joudah (Tavern Books). This surprisingly wonderful chapbook brings us a single narrative travel poem, walking us into Petra, where we experience and transcend time. It is one of the most remarkable books of the year, and far-too-little-attended, in part perhaps because Nasser was blocked from travel to the US when it launched.

This gorgeously crafted work could be read either as poetry or as an unconventional travel guide, bringing us inside this ancient place — Jordan’s Petra — along with Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who “discovered” it for Westerners, and then continuing to breathe, touch, and listen our way through history and language, architecture, and geography.

A combination of verse and prose, Nasser touches the site as we touch it, leaving us with “Only this hand / that returned with a map of smells and signs.”

Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems, Qassim Haddad, trans. John Verlenden and Ferial Ghazoul (Syracuse University Press).

3The lion’s share of this beautiful collection is a series of narrative works that re-invent the legendary love of Qays and Layla. In most versions, their love is chaste, and the couple is united only in death. Literary and visual adaptations have largely maintained this chastity, and many retellings of Qays and Layla’s story developed Sufi overtones, where Layla becomes a stand-in for man’s desire for God.

Haddad turns against tradition and takes the story in a completely different direction. In his poems, Qays’ desire is definitely not for God: It’s for a flesh-and-blood Layla. Qays here is not a madman. Instead, he is a knowing violator of societal taboos.

The cycle of poems plays on the spaces between imagination, official histories, and fable. They cite historical sources, but then undermine these sources’ credibility. In the end, Qays and Layla are so subversive that even Haddad’s narrative cannot contain them. In the long prose poem “Towards It at Every Turn”:

So Qays—thanks to his madness—became free not only from the power of the sultan and the tribe, but also—and especially—from the boundaries imposed on him by the transmitters of his story. We still find him stepping out and escaping, over and over.

A Bird Is Not a Stone, ed. Henry Bell and Sarah Irving, authors and trans. various (Freight Books)

A_bird_is_not_a_stone_270.270The A Bird is not a Stone collection gathers together twenty-nine of Scotland’s celebrated poets, who co-translate work by twenty-five contemporary Palestinians. The works are brought not just into English, but into Scots, Gaelic, and Shetlandic.

These are not the “usual suspects.” Liz Lochhead notes, in her introduction, that the 25 Palestinian poets included in the collection have rarely been translated into English. When they were, “it was always by academics and generally to be quoted as part of polemical, theoretical, or literary essays and in obscure publications. They were made into far less than poems, or were sometimes effectively censored by the omission of some of their content.”

The poems are not all equally successful. There are bright moments that open up new mental vistas and there are moments that feel too clever (the poem about Viagra), or too well-worn (Sufi spirituality). But there are also moments of genuine surprise, and the nature of the translation project itself makes the collection interesting.

This Room is Waiting, ed. Lauren Pyott and Ryan Van Winkle, authors and trans. various (Freight Books)

4This Room is Waiting was crafted on a similar premise — bridge translators helped bring work to English-language poets, who fashioned new work. Similarly, work was translated from English into Kurdish and Arabic in a collaboration between four UK and four Iraqi poets.

There are some gaps in understanding, and translational misdirections, but nonetheless the collection works to bring new poems to life.

The bridging process, Pyott has said, can really bring out the politics of translation in a way that they might not appear when just one person is struggling with the work.

The process, she says, has “raised some really interesting questions: How do you write your own version of a poem which you don’t necessarily agree with (politically)?”

The Tahrir of Poems: Seven Contemporary Egyptian Poets, ed. and trans. Maged Zaher (Alice Blue Books)

5This collection brings together work by seven young Egyptian poets between the ages of 25 and 33, all originally in Arabic but for the work by Amira Hanafi, poets, in Zaher’s words, who “had their own aesthetic revolution against the bareness of cultural life under Mubarak.”

The poems are diverse, but many of the best are full of the details of daily life in Cairo. From Ahmed Nada’s “Untitled,” which takes place on the Metro:

Meanwhile the intercom warns of the stampede at the doors
The standing are eagerly monitoring the sitting
Awaiting the opportunity to occupy their seats
A child passes through them selling small copies of the Quran
I remember my old ambition
To be a street seller
My body stretches on the seat
And awaits the next stop


Salah Faik: Selected Poems, ed. and trans. Haider al-Kabi (Dar Safi)

Born in 1945 in Kirkuk, Iraq, Faik is an important contemporary poet who has been translated by Sinan Antoon, Raphael Cohen, and Maged Zaher, among others. This collection has many wonderful, deceptively simple poems, although the translation is not always light on its feet. Here, from “Dream Season”:

I woke up at the voice of a muezzin. “What is this muezzin doing here in London?” I wondered. A moment later, it turned out that it was the sirens of police cars, fire fighters, and ambulances.”

Iraqi Nights, Dunya Mikhail, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid (New Directions)

Iraqi_Nights_300_450This book — another translation by Abu-Zeid — made the best-of 2014 list by “Split This Rock.” From their citation:

“Although the pervasive pain of war on the street, home, and soul in this collection threaten grief and paralysis, the poet continuously weaves in visions of a future outside of violence, of a place where ‘every moment / something ordinary / will happen under the sun.’”

Poems from this collection were also part of the reason for Abu-Zeid earning aPoetry magazine translation award.

It Took Place in this House, Amal Gamal, trans. Faiza Sultan (Dar Safi)

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George Hunka on Celan

December 15th, 2014 · Book Launch, Book Review

New books: Paul Celan

Paul Celan.

Paul Celan remains one of the most significant poets of the twentieth century. The two great poems of his early career, “Death Fugue” (circa 1945) and “Stretto” (1958), were respectively informed, if not inspired, by the Holocaust and the detonation of the atomic bomb. His body of work was a response, if not a riposte, to Adorno’s speculation that poetry was impossible in the wake of Auschwitz and Hiroshima; as Peter Szondi put it, “After Auschwitz no poem is any longer possible except on the basis of Auschwitz” — which is only to say that the only valid poetic imagination was that which was irrevocably cognizant that Auschwitz and Hiroshima were verifiable, inescapable facts of human behavior and linguistic history.

Both poems have generated a great deal of secondary literature, but Celan went even further with the poems in the second half of his career, which like Beckett’s late plays became increasingly difficult but hauntingly lucid nonetheless, radically concentrated — not least because any criticism explicating these plays and poems could never match the intensity of these plays and poems themselves as they attempt to reclaim the German language (and, perhaps by extension, human language itself) as a vehicle for the expression of love. So it is with great pleasure that I read of the publication this month of Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry — A Bilingual Edition from Farrar Straus and Giroux, translated by Pierre Joris. Joris has gathered six of Celan’s late books (three of which were published posthumously) in this 736-page collection, which also includes an introduction by Joris and extensive notes. Published on December 4, so far its release has been greeted with silence.

[ctd. here]

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On Kamel Daoud’s “Meursault, Counter-Investigation”

December 14th, 2014 · Book Review, Translation

via the always excellent Arab Literature (in English)

Why Did ‘Other Press’ Stick Through Heated Auction to Get Debut Algerian Novel?

Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud’s Meursault, Counter-Investigation was the subject of a heated auction at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. Why did Other Press stick it out to acquire world English rights? 

couvok-thumb-300x240-54975Publishers Weekly talked to Other Press publisher Judith Gurewich.

First — and most obviously — Meursault was one of the final four in running for France’s biggest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. The book also won the Five Continents Prize and was longlisted for the Renaudot. It’s a bestseller in France, which surely doesn’t hurt its chances at being translated.

The novel, Daoud’s first, is a response to Albert Camus’s The Stranger. According to Words Without Borders reviewer Suzanne Ruta: “In 2010 a French reporter…irritated Daoud by raising the tired question of whether Camus belongs to France or Algeria. … He went home and wrote a riff onL’Étranger, in the voice of the imagined younger brother of the unnamed “Arabe” shot five times by Meursault on that fateful Algiers beach in 1942.”

As to the reason Other Press wanted the book so badly, Gurewich said:

Because it is rare that a literary novel brings to the table such important, counter-intuitive and explosive ideas about postcolonialism, identity, religion, guilt and ambivalent identification with the aggressor. Daoud turns his conversation with Camus into a suspense story, whose emotional impact is as intense as its philosophical implications. I would have been devastated to lose this book. It is at once a political manifesto and a love story.

Gurewich also says that publishing the book in the US won’t be a challenge:

It is too good to be true. Young people will feel the book evokes familiar themes–identity, country in turmoil, the deceptive power of religion, politics, discrimination, ambition, rage–and their parents will be happy to remember their school years and a book they have surely forgotten but would want to revisit.

Algeria, of course, isn’t front and center in the American mind as it is for the French. But Gurewich said that she aimed to make the launch newsy by asking “Daoud, who is an award-winning journalist, to write some articles and op-eds explaining his views on the present situation in the Magreb and maybe extend them to the Middle East as a whole.”

The book also fits the image of the courageous Arab author speaking out against religious fanaticism: “I think that this book is very provocative in the sense that it really exposes the avatars of Arab identity today and also the dangers of religious fanaticism. It is hinted in the book that religion may have well replaced the authoritarian colonial rule that preceded it. Daoud is a very outspoken and courageous man.”

Indeed, this particular shaping of religiosity is perhaps one reason the book was criticized by some  Algerian readers.

The book has currently sold in 13 countries.

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Homage to Abdelwahab Meddeb

December 11th, 2014 · Homage

Held at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris on 26 November 2014.

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Review of Robert Kelly’s Collected Essays

December 10th, 2014 · Book Review, Essays

Urban_conflicts_by_AngiNelsonIan Dreiblatt just posted a longish blog post on drunken boat that starts with a review of A Voice Full of Cities: The Collected Essays of Robert Kelly. I am reproducing the opening section below; you can read the whole piece here:

Stone Stair New York, Part 1 by DB Guest Blogger Ian Dreiblatt

contra mundum press has just published a voice full of cities, a heaping anthology of Robert Kelly’s essays, selected by Pierre Joris and Peter Cockelbergh.  the book is a winding labyrinth of wonder; trails of intelligence, attention, desire, and pleasure that curl inward and nest among each other.  The overdue assembling of them into a book affords an opportunity to feel how richly and intricately these thoughts coexist, how the roof of one serves as floor of another, shared walls enlacing to produce a tremendous contemplative cortex, dotted with sancta in which old gods – the oldest gods – still darkly sleep.

I’ve been particularly rereading one piece from 1971 called IDENTITY     PREFERENCE      TEMPLE-COMPLEX.  it’s a short essay that begins by inquiring into ‘certain vectors of desire’ – where does that feeling originate in us, and what are the suns it grows toward?  what does it mean to be both made of the past and endlessly multiple in a world of ‘felicities, miseries & confusions?’  remembering Robert Duncan’s notion of The Poet as a single voice spoken thru many mouths in a given age, he wonders whether there might not likewise be a voice – a prounikos he calls it, a ‘carrier’ – some polyvocalic, integral whole of Desire that speaks as the illusorily discrete desires inside each of us.

& as soon as this question is posed, the essay shifts radically and introduces a second section with the observation that scholars of ancient mesoamerica do not refer to mayan population centers like uxmal and palenque as ‘cities’ – rather, they call them ‘temple-complexes’, emphasizing the way in which it was not distinctly economic, military, or agricultural concerns that animated these places, but cultic ones, rituals of tithe, sacrifice, purification, time-keeping, formalized contemplation.  So, altho the word will prove very problematic – which we’ll get to – we might casually name as religionthe primary force that gave these places coherence.

 & then there’s an amazing passage where he turns his attentions to new york city, and describes it, too, as a temple-complex, one where ‘a bewildering hierarchy of temple-functionaries arrives each day… ready to devote (in the technical sense, sphagia) one-third of their biological time to the national cult.’  As to the object of this cult, the question of ‘what god is worshiped on this most complex of all human altars,’ the answer is Preference, the continual act of choosing to think some things better than others and to design a self as the sum total of all these choices.  this will be familiar to anyone who’s lived under late capitalism.  (Reminiscent of it, I think, is the thesis of Bourdieu’s landmark la distinction, which was published eight years later.)  & then, affirmingly, the essay considers some fertile heresies that thrive amid but against the grain of this religion, among ‘those deeply committed to some one or few actual substances,’ like drugs, sex, and poetry, any immersion into ‘the worship of the thing, as meaningful existent.’

I love how picturing new york this way, as a temple organized around a sanctified inanity (the ‘divinized freedom to Prefer,’ RK calls it), helps ease my sense of predicament, connects the holy crisis of navigating urban life in america today with the holy crisis of living in any human settlement at any point in history.  You wake up with eyes in front of you & just go from there.  You move thru a tube underground or past a giant limestone plinth that the limestone king’s sitting on.  Whatever world you landed in.  To have come about at all is, famously, an intrinsically weird situation.

ctd here.

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Gaza writers receive death threats from IS

December 6th, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Human rights, Intellectuals, Islamic Fundamentalists, Mashreq

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up Palestinian flags and a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up Palestinian flags and a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. (Photo credit: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

This article via Al Monitor: THE PULSE OF THE MIDDLE EAST

by Hana Salah Posted December 5, 2014
Translator(s)Pascale el Khoury

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Mystery still surrounds the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Gaza. Statements in the name of the radical group threatening or claiming responsibility for previous bombings in Gaza are not enough to prove the existence of active members in the besieged Gaza Strip, though IS’ extremist ideology is easily spread.

Many Gazans underestimated the importance of the statement issued in the name of IS Nov. 30 in Gaza City demanding that women show “chastity” and abide by Sharia rules of dress. They have excluded the possibility of a real IS presence in the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the same Interior Ministry-affiliated security personnel that ruled under Hamas’ Islamist government.

IS published another statement on the Internet and social networking sites Dec. 3, further raising suspicions about its presence. In the statement, IS threatened to kill 18 Gaza poets and writers within three days unless they “repent” for having excessively insulted Islam in their writings. The statement also warned that IS, or “Wilayat Gaza,” as it called itself, will punish apostasy with death.

Despite this new threat, Iyad al-Bozom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, denied in an interview with Al-Monitor that IS has a presence in the Gaza Strip. “There are no extremist organizations, including the so-called IS,” he said, adding that the posts on social networks in the name of IS represent the opinions of a few individuals and not a full-fledged organization. Bozom stressed that his ministry will seriously address the threats issued.

“We do not prevent anyone from adopting the line of thought of any organization, but we do not allow these thoughts to threaten security or affect our social customs and traditions,” he said.

Satirical writer Akram al-Surani, whose name appeared in the IS statement, dismissed the threat as “silly.” He told Al-Monitor, “It is annoying, since it falls within the scope of restriction of freedoms.”

At a protest in front of the public prosecutor’s office in Gaza, Surani said, “We demand official protection and want to know which parties are behind this. Regardless of whether the threat was made by IS or not, we have concerns about what might happen in the future.”

Although a group of writers managed to meet the public prosecutor, Surani reported, “We only got reassurances that the official authorities have already started their own investigations.” He added, “There are talks about security measures, but we are not seeing anything tangible. No one looked into the message I received on my Facebook account. It could be possible to determine the sender’s IP address. The writers who were threatened did not receive any call from the Interior Ministry.”

These are not the first activities carried out by unknown parties in the name of Sharia and IS in the Gaza Strip. IS had claimed responsibility through social media posts — which have yet to be verified — for the bombing of the French Cultural Center on Oct. 6 and a series of explosions targeting the homes of some Fatah leaders on Nov. 7.

Bozom explained that investigations are ongoing in the previous explosion incidents. Early this year, the Church of the Latin Convent was bombed in what the Interior Ministry considered an individual act unrelated to IS.

Decentralized jihadist organizations such as IS can spread their ideology without being restricted by borders. This is especially true in Gaza, the frontline with Israel and under Hamas’ control for eight years, during which the Islamist movement was the one to confront radical religious groups and maintain security in the Gaza Strip.

Mukhaimar Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor that he does not rule out the presence of individuals who believe in IS ideology. He said, “Salafist groups with jihadist ideology are present in all the Arab world, but people in Gaza often rule out the presence of IS. Contrary to what they think, this organization is an ideology that does not require the physical spread of persons, and their presence will be not hindered by the Israeli blockade or the tight Egyptian security measures imposed on the Gaza borders.”

Abu Saada asserted that the continuous Palestinian political division has contributed to the presence of such movements, saying, “The ongoing division and the lack of control by the consensus government over the security file enabled these events, which may increasingly recur in the future.”

Abu Saada stated that some writers and intellectuals accuse Hamas of being behind these incidents and of making up IS for two reasons. The first is to draw the attention of people away from internal problems such as poverty, unemployment, delayed reconstruction and other pressing issues. Also, as many people believe Hamas is an ideological extremist group, acts carried out under the name of IS may be intended to show that there are worse groups than Hamas. They may be an attempt to thwart a revolution against Hamas.

When asked, a Hamas leader refused to comment on these accusations, simply arguing that despite the individual nature of the threatening posts, there is nothing to prevent IS from existing in the Gaza Strip.

The official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor, “The Palestinian arena is infiltrated by all intelligence services of the world, and these threats are not the result of division.” He accused Israeli parties of orchestrating these activities through their wings in Gaza.

The investigations initiated by Gaza’s Interior Ministry into previous attacks have yet to yield results. Whether these attacks were organized and executed by an organized network or by individuals is unknown, but signs of a possible IS cell in Gaza are increasing.

Read more:

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Alain Veinstein’s Final Broadcast

December 5th, 2014 · Literature, Poetry, Radio

Veinstein2In the early eighties I moved from London (impossible to make the rent in Thatcherite England) to Paris where I found freelance employment as radio-author, commentator, translator and other guises at France Culture (I still listen to that station nearly every night). The people who had just recently revolutionized those French cultural airwaves were the poet Alain Veinstein (by founding the superb nightly program Les Nuits Magnétiques in 1978) and Laure Adler who took over the direction of Les Nuits, while Veinstein created “Surpris par la nuit” and then “Du Jour au Lendemain,” his one-hour daily midnight interview show. It was thanks to them & to my friends Jacques Taroni & Michel Maire that I was able to produce many delightful (for me at least) & wild (radio brute, I used to call the formally experimental programs) broadcasts in a medium that was new to me but that I still absolutely adore today. My thanks to Alain & Laure to have permitted me to frolick in those airy wavy French fields! After 29 (!) years, France-Cultuere decided to put an end to Veinstein’s show (Les Nuits had died already a number of years back).   Here a podcast of Veinstein’s last program, a solo meditation on his work on radio & why it had to come to an end. France-Culture, critized in the show, had not wanted to broadcast it — until the text was recently published as a book from Le Seuil under the title Du jour sans lendemain.


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Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-86 by Pierre Joris

December 2nd, 2014 · Book Launch

Just re-issued by Skylight Press:

Breccia300It is from our bodies’s furrows that the first permission arises.

The drag of it. The pull of the pen across the magic writing pad.

It is the necessary violence we all call life

Breccia is an inspired grouping of poems from celebrated poet, translator, anthologist and essayist, Pierre Joris. It is a Collected Works, dated 1972 to 1986, that was first published in 1987 in Luxembourg by Editions PHI and in the USA by Station Hill Press. Unfortunately, the first edition was not widely distributed and the work has not thus received the readership it deserves. This all-new edition is a slightly expanded version of the former, restoring all the poems to their original states as first published in a series of small presses.

Such an important work is perhaps best introduced in the words of three fellow New York sages, all great poets, translators and teachers in their own right. Jerome Rothenberg was the co-editor (with Joris) of a much-acclaimed two-volume anthology of 20th Century Avant-Garde writings, Poems for the Millennium. Rothenberg had this to say about the impact of Joris’ work:

“Pierre Joris is a genuine Luxembourgian Yankee, who has invaded the American language, not to plunder but to enrich us with his presence. The scope of the work is large, the thrust is synthesizing, the idiom particular and rich. A renard-coyote, his accomplishment is there for all of us to see and hear.”

Cherished Brooklyn born poet, Robert Kelly, provides a lucid assessment of the language and literary scope of Joris’ work:

“Joris’ language (like that of Celan before him) makes the most honest claim on our ability too understand. He is not willing to lull us with music or charm us with images. The world his poems start out by hopelessly uprooted from, that world is never suavely commoditized for us, packaged. His language refers to nothing stable, only the domain between this thing and that. For all of us who are honest, it is necessary to admit: language itself is a second language, And Joris returns us to the primacy of the gulf between. He is the master of the unbridgeable chasm, the hand that cannot quite make it to the other hand. And the distance is precise, and his work vastly understands the distances, the sadness that is not patient with itself, the precision that does not thin itself any great thing for being right. This is honest, radical work, close to the beginning of a poetic disenchanted with its own airs and graces … Pierre Joris is a wonderful poet of remarkable breadth of concern and lyric occasion.”

Don Byrd, SUNY’s acclaimed sound artist and poet speaks directly to Breccia and how it clarifies Joris’ sense of poetic nomadism:

“[Breccia] is a showcase for poems from roughly twenty, sometimes rather fugitive, volumes, written and published during a time when Joris was living as a kind of postmodern nomad. One of the virtues of this in-gathering of work is that it makes clear the extent to which a sense of ‘nomadism’ — of being intensely in a place because one knows one has already left it — marks Joris’ poetry…. The sense of immediacy in his work is striking. But the images of weather and shifting light and shade that give so many poems their climate of feeling, always play against a complex flow of conceptual activity and the possibility, but only the possibility, of archetypal permanence…”

The new edition of the book retains the original introduction, ‘Oasis and Crossroads’, penned by the late great Eric Mottram – a central figure in the British Poetry Revival. Here, Mottram attempts to locate Joris in a borderless poetic landscape:

“…Joris’ poetry emerges within an active, varied cultural life – specific poems as moments of penetrative self estimation as critical estimation of the problems of the culture within which he is mobile, unrooted rather than uprooted, and yet consistently involved. In this sense, he is very much a late twentieth-century poet, outside the limits of nationalism, the parameters of limitation which wreck official poetry scenes, the legitimacies of prizes and government grants.”

In the original 1987 Preface to the work Joris himself speaks to the mixilating histo-cultural ethers that make up his intent:

“What I would have liked to see come through in Breccia is the tension between the fragmentary nature of experience & knowledge, & the desire for a narrative syntax, for the whole story of the tribe, the telling of which does inevitably blur the sharp edges of those shards. Europe gave me my history, those ghostly voices of the ancestors, real or made up, lied to or listened to. America gave me geography, the space of my dance. My hope has been that language, or what little of it I have been able to serve, has made a threshing floor for their marriage.”

It appears that such conjoining of narrative voices has been hugely successful throughout the breadth of Joris’ work. Breccia closely follows the recent publication of Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) and Breathturn into Timestead: The Complete Later Poetry of Paul Celan, translated & annotated by Pierre Joris (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux). The cover features a painting of an antlered Blakean figure by Allen Fisher, another wonderful poet associated with the British Poetry Revival. Skylight Press is proud to reissue this volume of experimental poetry and support the work of an important voice that has served to enrich the literary landscape in myriad ways.

Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-1986 is now available from various retail outlets such as or direct from the Skylight Press website.

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Lima Climate Summit

November 29th, 2014 · Climate Change, Uncategorized

album photo cefic.inddStarting Monday, at the UN climate summit COP20 in Lima delegates from more than 190 nations will discuss a new climate agreement.

On this issue, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:

“Two great challenges define the 21st century – the threat of catastrophic climate change and the maddening gap between the global rich and poor. These biggest challenges to worldwide peace are closely interlinked. Global warming impacts, such as increasingly disastrous weather events, regional water scarcity or local crop failure, hit those hardest who have the least means for coping. And the fossil fuel dividend is cashed in by those who are already wealthy. Without enhancing global equity, climate change cannot be contained; and without reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, fairness cannot be realized. Stabilizing the climate and combating poverty is largely the same thing.”

Weblinks to the recently published Worldbank report “Turn down the heat” by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, here & here.

Weblinks to the recently published report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, here, here & here.

Aljazeera’s optimistic analysis, here.

For more information, please contact the PIK press office:

Phone: +49 331 288 25 07


Follow us on twitter: @PIK_climate

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Uri Avnery: The Son of my Eyes

November 28th, 2014 · Israel, Palestine

Haaretz headline on the Jewish nation-state law discussed below.

Haaretz headline on the Jewish nation-state law discussed below.

November 29, 2014

THE PRESIDENT of Israel was aghast.

Ruvi Rivlin, who was recently elected to the high but largely ceremonial post, is far from being a leftist. On the contrary, this scion of a family that has been living in Jerusalem for seven generations, believes in a Jewish state in all the country from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river.

But Rivlin is a true liberal.  When he read The Poem he was shocked to the depths of his soul. Then he remembered that the writer of this masterpiece had been invited to the President’s residence to read from his works. He was promptly disinvited.

For this the President was attacked from many quarters. How dare he? What about artistic freedom?

THE “POET” in question is one Amir Benayoun, a popular “oriental” folk singer. “Oriental” music, in this context, means the melodies preferred by oriental Jews, based on the Arab music of their former homelands with primitive lyrics about love and such.

The professional fortunes of Benayoun were declining, but The Poem restored them, and how! It became the center of a stormy national debate, all the media discussed it at length, even Haaretz printed it verbatim. Politicians, commentators and everyone else who respects himself or herself praised or condemned it.

The imaginary narrator of The Poem is an Arab named Ahmed, who dreams about killing Jews, especially Jewish babies.

My own translation:

Salaam Aleikum I am called Ahmed / And I live in Jerusalem / I study at the university a thing or two / Who enjoys all the worlds like me? / Today I am moderate and smiling / Tomorrow I shall ascend to heaven / I shall send to hell a Jew or two / It’s true that I am just ungrateful scum / That’s true, but I am not to blame, I grew up without love / The moment will come when you turn your back to me / And then I shall stick into you the sharpened axe.

I am Ahmed living in the central region / I work near a kindergarten and am responsible for gas containers / Who like me enjoys two worlds? / Today I am here and tomorrow they will not be here / Many of them, very many of them will not / It’s true that I am nothing but ungrateful scum / That’s true, but I am not to blame, I grew up without love / It’s true that the moment will come when you turn your back to me / And then I shall stick into you the sharpened axe  / It’s true that I am nothing but ungrateful scum / That’s true, but I am not to blame, I grew up without love

It’s true that the moment will come when you turn your back to me / And then I shall shoot you straight in the back

SUBSTITUTE DAVID for Ahmed and Berlin or Paris for Jerusalem and you have a perfect anti-Semitic poem. It is totally certain that the Bundespräsident would not invite the author for tea in his residence.

But the president of Israel was attacked from all sides for canceling the invitation. The rightists attacked him for rebuffing a true patriot, many leftist do-gooders disapproved in the name of freedom of creation and universal tolerance.

When I was a nine-year old in Germany, I heard the catchy song “When Jewish blood spurts from the knife / Everything will be twice as good”. If the author was still alive, would German liberals demand that he should be accorded artistic freedom?

Benayoun (39) bears an Arab name. Benayoun derives from the Arab term of endearment “Son of (my) Eyes”. His first name sounds like the Arab title Amir (prince), though written differently. He was born in a Beersheba slum, his parents are immigrants from Morocco. They could be called Arab Jews, as my parents were called German Jews.

Benayoun was not a fanatic to start with. But when his brother adopted a more extreme form of the Jewish religion, he followed suit. This procedure, called “Return to the Faith”, is almost always accompanied by a rabid racism.

The poet claims that his spiritual master is the Messiah. He does not carry amulets, only a dollar bill given to him by the late (?) Rabbi of Lubavitch who, his US followers claim, is the Messiah and did not die.                                                                                                                    

Benayoun’s poetic masterpiece of sheer, undiluted hatred reflects the mood of a large part of Israeli Jews at this point in time. The latest events in Jerusalem have created a climate in which racist hatred can raise its ugly head without shame.

THE CENTER of racism is the government itself. It is completely dominated by the most extreme Right – indeed, there is nothing to the right of it.

From its inauguration, it seems that this government has done nothing but enacting racist laws (apart from the Gaza war, of course). Almost every week we hear about an initiative to make yet another new law, worse than the last, if that is possible.

Just three days ago the Minister of Home Security, a minion of Avigdor Lieberman, initiated a law which would define the Arab Temple Guard as an “unlawful organization” – the equivalent of a terrorist group. This guard is employed by the Waqf (Muslim charitable association) which is in charge of the Temple Mount by international agreement (with Jordan).

The Guard cannot defend the Holy Shrines against the Israeli police, but it can warn Muslims of the approach of Jews who come to pray, which is forbidden. Removing the Guard would tighten even more the grip of Jewish fanatics and cynical politicians on the Mount.

This measure, at this precise moment, is a direct provocation. It confirms the darkest Muslim fears that Israel is about to change the status quo and turn the Mount into a Jewish prayer site.

Why would a police minister do so just now, when Jerusalem is in flames and the entire Muslim world is rallying to the defense of the Holy Shrines? Is he out of his mind?

Not at all. It is just that he must compete with other politicians in grabbing headlines. And, as Benayoun is now showing, hatred of “the Arabs” is the hottest article on the market.

Then there is the proposed law that would allow the Knesset majority to annul the Knesset membership of any deputy who “favors the armed struggle against Israel”. Who decides? The Knesset majority, of course. It would act as prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time.

This bill is clearly aimed at Haneen Zuabi, a provocative female Arab member, who has already been banned from the Knesset for half a year (except for voting).

Another measure is the annulment of residence in Jerusalem for terrorists and their families. (Arabs in annexed East Jerusalem were not accorded citizenship, but only “permanent residency”. This can be revoked any time.)

This week the residence status of a local Arab was indeed revoked. He was accused of having driven another Arab to Tel Aviv, where the passenger carried out a suicide attack at a pub. This happened 13 years ago. The driver protested that he had no idea of his passenger’s intentions, but was sent to prison nevertheless. Now the ministry remembered to expel him from the city.

SUCH BILLS, laws and executive actions fill the news every day.

Since its inauguration, the current Knesset has included a group of about twenty members who in other countries might be called neo-fascists. Most of them are leading Likud members, the others belong to rival coalition factions. They compete fiercely with each other. They are like 20 cats in one bag.

It seems that these members spend their days looking for ideas for even more atrocious anti-Arab measures. These make deadlines and grab public attention. The more atrocious, the bigger the headline and the longer the TV interviews. These translate into popularity within their parties and guarantee reelection.

If you have no other qualities, this alone will assure you of a successful political career.

FOR SEVERAL weeks now the center of activity has been a bill called “Basic Law: Israel the Nation-State of the Jewish People”.

Israel has no constitution. From the beginning, the religious-secular controversy has prevented it.

However, the declaration of independence adopted in May 1948, which has no legal status, defined Israel as a “Jewish State” and promised complete equality to non-Jewish citizens. Later, several Basic Laws defined Israel as a “Jewish and Democratic State”, giving equal status to the two components, which often seem contradictory.

The diverse versions of the new bills define Israel as a “Jewish State” only, demoting the “democratic” aspect to second-class status. They abolish the word “equality” altogether. Arabic, which is now the second official language, will lose that status. Discrimination, now practiced clandestinely, will become legal and overt.

These versions were officially adopted last Sunday by the government. However, Binyamin Netanyahu promised to produce a more moderate version before the measure comes to the final vote in the Knesset.

Netanyahu rightly fears that the current versions might set off a world-wide reaction. The “only democracy in the Middle East” would become far less democratic. Tunisia might assume this title.

As far as is known at the moment, Netanyahu’s version – which will probably be adopted in the end – will restore the “Jewish and democratic” appellation, but omit the term “equality”. The rights of individual non-Jewish citizens will be upheld, but not any collective rights of non-Jewish communities, concerning language, religion and education.

President Rivlin has denounced the bills squarely, much to his credit. Leading jurists have called them “superfluous”, doubting that they would effect any real change. Liberal commentators have come out against them. “Moderate” coalition members have threatened to vote against them, or at least to abstain. Perhaps in the end very little will come out of the whole squabble.

But the fact that one can build a career on attacking democracy, on hatred of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens – more than 20% of the population – is chilling.

BY THE way, nobody has asked the seven million Jews outside Israel about their stand on the matter.

What do they think about Israel being the “nation-state of the Jewish People”? Do they believe that there is a “Jewish people”? Do they want to owe allegiance to Israel? Do they fear being accused of dual loyalty?   

Do they want at least to be consulted?

But what the hell, who asks them anyway? 

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