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

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Robert Kelly: An Alchemical Journal (4)

September 5th, 2014 · Uncategorized

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In 1955 I & some school-fellows attempted a revival of Batman as an object of inquiry. It does not feel good to have been in the avant-garde of kitsch. Yet my fingers smell of her authenticity, She Who Is To Be Obeyed, She who is wet.

These are the books: The works of Gerhard Dorn
                 Michael Maier
Jakob Böhme
Robert Fludd
Thomas Vaughan

Not one of them but wrote with a goose-quill. Over the hen-yard, the scream of the chicken-hawk. Over the stream (Hortonville 1939), the blue scream of a kingfisher. Men who like to read books & watch birds. Presidents of the United States. Men who blow fine glass flasks with wild birds inside. Cegeste (F*lc*n*ll*’s name in the special bars of Toulon) worked it out just fine: L’oiseau chante avec ses doigts. Which means, when it comes to the Vessel of the work: the ouzel chants a wake six dights. Six nays. And on the seventh, breasts. Or casts a storm spell on the Wash. The Wish. They come to life again. L’auzel. L’aura amara. We picked the right road & the wrong goal. For a long time the kingfisher sat on the branch.

Peonies in the olive jar, white water. Wise men read the labels. Water salt & acid added. But they are peonies, her holy flower, how the rain stinks of them. I love her. Wise men need no labels.

There is something about new morning, dew on the sun & the people out on the loose again, that moves the bowels.

After all this crap, time to understand. Yes, that was it; the Daring. The Irrevocable. Death as game. You will notice I do not speak of Death. I do not like that game. If you go on playing it I will take my life & go home. The Gnostic says. When I was a child I heard several sermons each summer (though once in a life would have been enough) about the boy who wilfully missed Mass on Sunday to go to the beach, & came back in a box. That’s the way they always said it: in a box—& there was no doubt what that meant. It is only now, in my thirty-first year, that I begin to doubt the relevance of the priest’s report. Yet each sin measures me & limits my work. When I have sinned I write in a box.

We made love by the waterfall. Later we saw a snake. It was eating, ugly. I had no compassion for its hunger. Forgive me.

As a strong man, I love to receive the commands of beautiful women.

The course of love-making follows the phases of the moon. An ignorant girl wrote: ‘My dog flowed me to school.’ Dont everybody laff at once.

What did she mean coming into my office & seeing the big picture of the fish &, asking me if I were the Fisher King? Yet she was beautiful. I clapped a hand to my thigh & worshiped —for the length of that casual, meant-to-be-humorous gesture—the woman secretly inside it. O unborn twin sister of mine, o death in my body come to life. I was black & blue from the injections, etc.

So many birds of morning. Elephant on the desk. To each unit of the biological world belongs its proper gesture. We call it lucus, ‘grove,’ a non lucendo, from the fact that it is not bright inside it. Dark birds. The traveller asked for an empty glass. One tusk is longer than the other. In a poem of Rene Char’s we read of deujc pointes semblables, sun shining on two like tips, of the horn of the bull, of the sword that kills him. I have kept him all these years at the door, waiting for one to become empty.


Its earliest glyph was the Ka, the upraised hands  KaGlyph

When we leave our house, only the wisest of us throws up his hands.

The most remarkable event of the week was a mock crucifixion wherein a young man was lashed to a yellow cross propped up before the people. After saying of pretending to say certain words, he pretended to die. If one pronoun had slipped out of place, I honestly declare I would have lost my mind.

But I didnt say what it was, of which the Ka, the upraised hands, was symbol. Call it in the simple jargon of our time, my time, a process. Fresh & light-footed Dante called Guinicelli’s love poems.

All things are finally brought into the Furnace of Love. We have that assurance. The temperature.

Mosquito bite on my thigh, a gentle enough punishment for all the thighs I’ve bitten. I mean all the times I’ve bitten thighs.

In a play of Joel Oppenheimer’s, the classical historical western desperadoes look down from cowboy heaven on the struggles of the characters of the play. At times they speak. When I saw the play performed, the desperadoes were enacted by poets. The fertility of a contrivance is out of all proportion to its meaning. Or a sentence.

Hoping to learn by a sign how the Work prospers, I look out the window, first moving the curtain on which the terra cotta  
 Mirror of Ashtaroth reflects no image.

I’ll try again to say it straight. Hoping to learn by a sign how the Work prospers, I move the curtain & look out, morning

The language has roots in me, by it I am grown, leaf & hand & tongue. Who is this language? Who is this King of Glory? I have sharpened my pen. I have opened the gates of the Temple.

[ be continued]

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Robert Kelly: An Alchemical Journal (3)

September 3rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

MayererAlchemy AtalantaA man of 85 in Northern Dutchess Hospital with aplastic anemia. Given a transfusion, congestive heart failure followed from surfeit of liquid. Given a transfusion of centrifuged blood solids without much plasma, congestive heart failure followed again. Digitalis & mercuric diuretic administered intravenously. “Perhaps the marrow of his bones wore out, as another man might lose his hair.”

How much can a man lose? If blood is lost in the tree, what of the fruit? I had asked the second question of the afternoon. It was not enough.

Wolfram has Parzival finally ask, “Uncle, what’s the matter with you?” And that, no more than token, recognition of the reality of the other is enough. After all the struggles, romantic & terrible & all, through the deserts of the self, at last, after years, a Good Friday spell & spell broken,
         after the spellbound repentences,
to be able at last to see the tokens perish, & seeing instead an other person, even an uncle
 (a right-angled relative, a perpendicular to the self), & make an utterance to him which is also of him: Oeheim, waz wirret dir?

What is the matter? we say in English. But Parzival, in Middle High German has to ask, What troubles you, what’s ailing you, why are you perplexed? We want to know the answer to our own question, what is the matter?

        (Which is not: Why is James James’ mother never heard of since she went down to the end of town? Where did his mother go? To The Mothers?)

       But is: what is the matter?

Everything that we know makes free.

    Genealogy, accepted or chosen or invented, always limits. Ancestor rites. Joss sticks in brass bowls. Dust on the calendar.

But to be in the world means come on harder. Talk with a hard on. Showing them the pictures. Because I want. Words extract themselves from the air as bears eat honey. We’d been at her place for two hours before it struck. What alphabet was it?

He reads the blotter’s backwards forward in a mirror and becomes a sage.

Being in this city under the sea was submitting himself almost to Ordeal, a testing of a Self (which did not perhaps need to be tested) in the midst of the irrelevant, the unnecessary, the irritant, the abominable. It was a sorrow to be here, to turn from what was his, the terrene airy life he lived in the heart of, to put himself in this fix, the half-day journey down, the being-there in the hopeless knowledge of having to ungo the whole way to get back where he had been, no further, except the furtherness of self-betrayal; yes, that was it he thought (his pen blurring in the hydrosphere), in the destructive element immerse (he quoted), yes, that was it, his joy had been to taste of self-betrayal, see darkingly how far he could go in without destroying the self, as he had as a child sometimes, breathing fast & prick erect, daringly stayed seated in the car when the el train came to his stop & the doors opened & he sat there knowing they would close & all his body trembled with the lust of his confusion, delay, desire, self-torture & still he sat & then the doors would close & he would be trapped in the kingdom of his own consequence, bedded down with the sheer whore voluptuous effect (who was also Love & goddess & wife of his manhood) of his action. Or as he would, long afterwards even, fantasize a girl in a public place taking off her clothes in a daring, trembling, smile-faced deadly flirtation with the irrevocable, how she would strip off shoes & stockings & coat & blouse & skirt & slip (& thus still be clad, though wildly more sexually, as chastely as herself in a bathing suit) & then with the same smile & the saliva drying on her full wet lips & with a shiver of total wild self-abandoning glory loosing the straps of her bra & pulling it off & letting her breasts swing free in the fierce wind of actual crime, then wriggling her panties down, rubbing her hands into her fur as she writhes her naked ass out at the world, at policemen & god & teachers & nuns & soldiers all running to beat at her with savage reprisals — she has dared & gone beyond, she has committed irrevocable nakedness.

Yes, that was it he thought, the Daring the Irrevocable; he understood the secret meaning of what Apollo’s torso seemed to say in Rilke: Du musst dein Leben andern, you must change your life, strip to the nakedness of a statue, strip yourself of arms & legs & be a torso, gouge out the flesh, murder flesh & blood, burn the earth in the ferocity of changing.

The course & sense of narrative: he becomes I; in a different way (‘in a mystery,’ as old Arthur would have said), I becomes he. Overwhelmed in the embarrassments of revelation, “I” take “refuge” in “rhetoric.”

[ be continued]

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Remembering a Pigeon

September 1st, 2014 · Man-made Disaster, Obituaries

via Retort & Iain Boal:

To: Retort

From: GS

[Geoffrey Sea sends us this dispatch from Ohio on the centenary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Martha was reputedly the 'endling', the last of her species, as most certainly Benjamin was the relict Tasmanian tiger, dying in Hobart Zoo on September 7th, 1936. John James Audubon, in 1813, describes his encounter with a flock of passenger pigeons, whose roosts were staggering in scale, often covering hundreds of square miles: “As I traveled on, the air was literally filled with pigeons. The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses. Before sunset I reached Louisville, Kentucky. The pigeons passed in undiminished number, and continued to do so for three days in succession. The people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys, incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which flew lower as they passed over the river.  Multitudes were thus destroyed.” The notion that this of all birds in North America might be exterminated was hard to conceive; its passing prompted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and - together with the writings of the philologist George Perkins Marsh on the effects of deforestation - helped to usher in modern ecological consciousness and the idea of profound anthropogenic impact. IB]

A Passenger Pigeon Centennial Meditation

Geoffrey Sea

1 ix 14


Today, September 1, 2014, marks one hundred years since Martha died. Martha is said to have been the last passenger pigeon on earth, but the truth is a bit more complicated, because “Martha”, in symbol and substance, continues to be naught but a projection of ourselves. This was especially evident at “Martinis for Martha”, part of a passenger pigeon commemorative weekend I have just attended at the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha expired.

This was a coming full circle for me personally, because it’s been thirty-one years since I first saw “the Sargents Pigeon” mounted in a glass case at the Cincinnati Zoo. That bird, long said to be the last passenger pigeon seen in the wild, was vandalized and grotesquely battered soon after I saw it. So she has been transferred to the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, where she has become known by the cutesy name “Buttons” – the name that her assassin gave the specimen, which had been outfitted with black shoe-buttons in place of the living pigeon’s brilliant red eyes.

Much of this drama occurred in the house that I now own and occupy in Sargents Station, Pike County, Ohio, a place to which I was led by sleuthing out the story of the Sargents Pigeon. It was in this house that Blanche Barnes, a twenty-three year old then six months pregnant, stuffed and mounted the bird and sewed shoe-buttons into the eyes. Both Blanche and her son, Isaac Newton Barnes II, died soon after childbirth, probably from arsenic poisoning, since arsenic was then the common taxidermist’s tool.

Joel Greenberg, who organized and spoke at the commemoration, has dethroned the Sargents Pigeon as the “last wild specimen” – or thinks he has – by finding two other members of the species that seem to have also been shot in the Ohio Valley at slightly later dates, one in Indiana and one in Illinois. And Joel calls me a “purist” in his new book, A Feathered River In the Sky, for insisting that the Sargents Pigeon be called by its rightful name.

But the real truth is that none of these “facts” has meaning outside of the human tendency to project our own anxieties and neuroses upon the Passenger Pigeon – especially evident as complicated national alliances veer toward world war in southeastern Europe, exactly as they did just one hundred years ago. And that may be the real reason that “Martha” was dubbed “the last one” – that is, the inauspicious date on which she passed.

Sorry to get technical, but Martha was probably not a full-blooded passenger pigeon. As authorities have pointed out, she lacked the prominent cranium of the super-smart female passenger pigeon, so she likely was a half-breed result of last-ditch efforts to save the species by cross-breeding with other pigeon species that did not require gargantuan flocks to reproduce.

The actual date of extinction is better placed around the turn of the century, when the last survivors in the wild were exterminated with lead shot, or even more than a decade earlier, when the last breeding colonies were recorded in the wild.

My intent is not to defrock Martha as “the last”, rather it is to emphasize that the importance of Martha and the Sargents Pigeon does not lie in technical details, but in the symbolic roles that both birds have played for conservation efforts and for grappling with the whole issue of anthropogenic extinction. Both birds have become characters in a whole genre of ecology books for children, and the Sargents Pigeon was featured as the speaking host in probably the first-ever ecological radio program, broadcast out of Columbus in the 1940s.

And both these specimens, which now reside in Columbus and Washington DC, represent pride of place. The Cincinnati Zoo lies near the confluence of the two Miami Rivers with the Ohio, “Miami” being the name, in the indigenous Miami language, for the Passenger Pigeon. The Sargents Pigeon was shot by a boy less than a mile from the Barnes Works earthwork complex of Sargents Station, a complex that was, according to our best understanding, built to guide the pigeons in migration as the carriers of human souls.  When the Bureau of Ethnology surveyed these earthworks in the 1880s, their chief informant was Isaac Newton Barnes, the grandfather and namesake of the baby who died as a result of the stuffing and mounting of the Sargents Pigeon.

There was a time when religious folk would refer to such pigeon happenings as “signs”.

The last event on the schedule of the Martha commemorative weekend was a talk given at the Fernald Preserve, on the banks of the Great Miami River. Fernald is the remnant of the former federal nuclear fuels facility that became infamous for spewing uranium dust all over southwestern Ohio.

Now dominating the site, taking up a large segment of the horizon outside the presentation venue, is a 70-acre rectangular mound containing the radioactive remnants of the uranium factory. Jason Krupar of the University of Cincinnati has likened this mound to the area’s ancient Indian earthworks, and hypothesizes that, as part of our legacy, archaeologists of the future may dig into one of these mounds expecting to find Adena artifacts, but uncovering radwaste instead. As fate would have it, the US government would now like to build a second similar waste mound, this one even larger, outside the massive former uranium enrichment complex that was built on part of the former Barnes estate in Sargents Station.

Much was said at the Passenger Pigeon commemoration about learning the lesson of that extinction. I dare to suggest that the unlearned lesson is staring us Ohioans in the face.

And so I remain a “purist” about the name of the Sargents Pigeon, and suggest this appropriate brief meditation on this centennial day:  Go to a quiet place outdoors, where you can see the clear-blue pigeonless sky, hear the sound of running water, and feel the late summer breeze on your skin. Then focus your thoughts for one full hour on this single question:  Do you want to be known for all eternity by the cute nickname bestowed on you by the boy who blows out your brains?


10620640_10202763153264686_5651488854277840200_nMartha at the Cincinnati Zoo

10354826_10202763155904752_2326616095529915213_nFull-blood passenger pigeon female

[Note the distinct difference in the shape of the cranium, first pointed out to me by Stephanie Canzanella. GS]

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Robert Kelly: An Alchemical Journal (2)

August 31st, 2014 · Uncategorized


And now we have been in the rain. She pulled her shirt off & ran before me up the slope, turning back to note how fast I followed, the eagerness of my address to this step of the operation. There was no measure to this time, no bounds to my eagerness, hence no measure of it, hence no seeming to run faster though I pursued. It was quiet in the place she ran to, very dark grasses tufted across the ground, given among black rocks. The rain had been sturdier before. But what it was mostly was that she didn’t know what she wanted. She was so silent her silence startled her, made her uneasy as an animal is startled by its own shadowy reflection in a still puddle. She showed me a bird’s nest from which the small blue bird she’d seen in it last week had now flown away. On the way back she showed me a big wet grey toad. We stared at it till I couldnt see it any more. Then it jumped. I thought of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, how there is One who leads, & another who looks back (wet hair & broad shoulders) to see if another follows. But then I very often think of that. Perhaps this was at last the right time to think of it, though there had been right times before, & will be after, God willing. The right time is more frequent than I think. Even the toad had something to speak: 

Eines abends spöte
Ging ein Mann einen steilen Weg hinan.
Da sah er eine Kröte —
dies Gedicht ist nicht von Goethe.

Dialect & substandard forms. Popular songs. Old popular ditties. Songs my aunts & uncles knew. Peg o my heart unwobbling pivot? Our chung? It was not enough that I followed, however fast. She had to lead. Poliphilo waltzed with the strawberry blonde. Alchemy is the science of finding the right year to be born.

Only now is it clear that I was walking on that hillside. Midway up the woods there is a fence, & by it a black wet tree. We stopped & planted seeds there, in the middle of the air. There was such silence in the woods, in the wood, & that’s what I’m trying to get away from now. No need for all that silence, no need for all this secrecy, as far as I can see. And there are houses where women sleep. Were we sad because we were silent, & silent because all the secrets had told themselves into the listening rain? Anybody seeing me would have known what was on my mind.

One of the girls was of gypsy parentage, & in the set of her body I saw an intimation of the origin of the Cards. These postures are the way we must be, things being as they are. Yoga will teach a man to live without pulmonary breathing beneath the ground, or extend his subtle nervous system to any distance, or live three hundred years. But it cannot teach him to bend his shanks out forward from the knee, or chew one single grain of rice by grinding down with the upper jaw. The intimation in fact I did not see then looking at her, but only now, reviewing the event. What reckoners we are! Runs hits & errors. Secrecy of the pitcher’s mound, the Magus of Tiphareth rears back & hurls. Yesod’s last chance to knock it over the fence, perimeter, parameter, paramita, into, Malkuth, the actual world. In the shell of the catcher’s mitt, demonmask of his tantric form, the Qlipoth wait. Or if a man should one day mislay his member, he would find it on the Moon. O what liars we are.

Several years ago a team of clinicians discovered that blood of dogs poisoned by carbon monoxide would re-oxygenate faster (in many instances critically so, saving the animal’s life) when exposed to the light of a mercury-vapor lamp.

A moth the size of the ice-box carries the ice-box away. So what it has to do with is that Greek word isos, same as this, same as that. Isomimetic, a man steps through society & enters his house. Shooting methedrine, the bad green heart. Held together by starch. Shooting starch. Filling the lungs with starch.

Riding the forest: 

1) Who or what does the River serve?
2) Where does it hurt?
3) Will I be ruled?
4) When it rains who is it I hear laughing in the night?

Know the inflammation by these signs:


a redness a pain a heat a swelling)—riding the forest, preserving the memorials of the days.

The dream said: And overnight the instrument is changed. But night was a year & a day, & what is an instrument was never an instrument before. How we change. How we use ourselves.

There is beating on the doors of heaven. I am fooling myself. There is beating on the doors of hell.

When I get down to it, there has been little I could really believe in but the heat itself of the process. Baseball game. Today the rodeo: horses quivering in the breathless heat. A shame to use us animals so. The riders. The ridden. The watchers. Gasping the thick valley air, the dust. The calcination of horse & its rider. Spectre of Animal beauty raised in the dust-filled vase, spectre of use, spectre of lost blood.

As another process, not the casting of bronze, is called sang perdu, lost blood, lost bread, the song perdu, the elided melody of all-my-life, a purple flower, iris, orchis, testes. A sign & proof of the truth whereof it is the signature. A process of lost blood, choking the vessel, lost.

[ be continued]

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Robert Kelly: An Alchemical Journal

August 28th, 2014 · Writing

As promised —though delayed because of lack of internet connections in the Upper Pyrenees— here is the first installment of Robert Kelly’s An Alchemical Journal (first published in IO magazine #4, summer 1967 & reprinted in The Alchemist to Mercury, a collection of Kelly’s work edited by Jed Rasula in 1981. There will be about 10 installments to be published roughly one every second or third day. This schedule will be adhered to at least starting next Monday when I’ll be back home in Sorrentinostan, Brooklyn.




A N    A L C H E M I C A L     J O U R N A L


The car came for me today.

It is only those who are in some way in love with death to whom the Queen’s agents come.


Silence as instruction. Two kinds of Silence. Negative: silence as abstention from utterance [how to teach poetry]. Positive: silence as a shape to ram down their throats. In their ears. Bodies. Eyes. Shaped silence, against time.


Harpocrates is the Aion too. Silence of Hokhma. Silence of Binah. Michael Angelo’s grieving women. Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici, my initiation into the sphere of Binah, into the urgency of poetry. Trey of Spades. Pique-Dame. Prick this woman. Grief. Something held to the lips. Aion. Eis aiona. No time.


Silence is the instruction. Al & Carola had a long way to drive. Overweening oracles. Naufrages. Simplicity. I remembered a story. Why I was there. Why the sun shone. They had a long way to go. Presence fills her. Her body turns over, she sees me watching her. How much is part of the automatic instructions. I will never ask or tell her, she will never tell or ask me.

Wanting to say brass ash tray she said brash ass. Her body turns over. Tambourines, as if those were silence. Whir of the fan. What the adept learns is that waiting for the right time is the same as making things up.

Rebels are walking the streets. “Anti-government forces, Boy Scouts & others who make up the rebel core.” Militant Buddhist youth organization. Her body in the sun. I dont want to look at gentle ease or suntanned knees. I want a gun. I dont need a gun, I want an enemy, I want a war. Kill the elms with soft green. Italic day, signature of the earth.


They are dead. That is they do not answer. What is this busyness of theirs they do not answer to our calls?


What a wonder Thomas Vaughan is, priceless consecutor of the real, of the plain & hidden flesh of man. How he hates Aristotle, disdains the feeble Weiaheit of Tyanaeus. He is here, he is here. The open eye of Matter. O you devil you, you beauty.

Today I look in the mirror. I see that my beard has billowed out & swarms around my eyes. Earlier I stood gasping for breath in the icy shower, only the lattice work wood floor of the stall separating me from the rough earth hole beneath. Between air & water I stood on wood. Between earth & air I stood in water. Only my breath was fire. Since then my hair has lain flat & wet, slow-drying in the grey wind. But my beard! L’homme dans le miroir m’a dit:
Je suis l’homme a barbe rouge.
You can’t do anything with me.

Outside there is a doghouse from which the dog has been removed, or from which he has wandered. It has plywood walls & a shingle roof. The gap in the front is irregular, the size but not the shape of a dog. It is a perfectly good dog house, small for me but ideal for a dog. Dogs go everywhere & do everything. I have never read a story anywhere about a dog getting into a fight with an eagle.

It’s on a hillside, & so much has been in or on or under hillsides. I mean on hillsides but the others came, in, under. I think of the raths & hills my Irishes knew, backparts of my blood, fair dark-haired red-haired men like me who spoke no language I could understand & were my fathers. What if a man desires the acquaintance of his remotest great-grandmother, and she a mere girl, in the matins of the world, walking on the dewed grass of Ireland. What does it mean if a man wants to go into that time before him (though our language says two different things with that word before: “Before Abraham was, I am” but “Before my eyes”), what does it mean if a man wants to step lightly across the Galway field, earliest morning, up to where the mother of his blood walks just as lightly, & to slip his arm around her slim waist, but with his wrist so flexed that the tips of his long fingers brush, press, & half-support the fullness of her right breast, soft loose in her dress?

Whoever that man was I would in that fashion have slightly been, whoever he was he knew the hillsides, had maybe walked inside them beyond the tradition of easy enchantments, had maybe seen those cities, worships, inconceivable entertainments, above all had maybe felt the speed of Faery. And if I say all that’s in the hill is hill-stuff, molecules & subtle motions, I have denied nothing.

The earth, puzzled & dismayed by the ease with which we forget her, rears herself up in hills & mountains to present herself to our eyes, catch our attention. Greeks with the chthonian rites, their blood breakfasts spread for earth, had no mystique of hills, mounts or ‘nature.’ Logres (old Sumer, our summer-land) which spilt no innocent blood, had need of celestial mountains, hills of the first sidhe, bewildering forests piled between man & heaven, a sign, a reminiscence. Mother calling.

Somewhere in this country a girl lives behind a door & has her name & mine conjured together in pencil on that door, a psychotic scrawl that hints the sacred mystery of the truth. Its inscriber got the story right. But the names wrong.

What he & I had to figure out together before we even talked was this: that the central problem of the alchemic Work is the same as the social, psychological problem of Jealousy. Who gets into whom. Why? May I plant these seeds in your garden?

[ be continued]

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The Struggle Against Borders and for Autonomy in Kurdistan

August 25th, 2014 · Iraq, Middle East, Syria

by Ali Bektaş

[via RETORT where Iain Boal added this note: The text of this dispatch was received from Ali on 25.vii.14. It reflects the situation in Rojava during the third week of July. Apologies to AT for the delay in editing (23.viii.14). IB]

Temmuz, 2014

nuce_06072014-200241-1404666161.6A Turkish armored personnel carrier patrolling the zone separating the Kurds between Turkey and Syria (credit: Özgür Gündem)

The struggle to abolish borders which separate peoples from each other is commonly represented by certain well-known and extreme examples. The militarized wall between the US and Mexico is one clear case in the consciousness of the Western left. Another disgusting manifestation is the stranglehold of Israel’s apartheid wall around the West Bank. Less well known, despite a hundred years of fierce struggle, are the borders that separate the 40 million Kurdish peoples from each other and which span Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Kurdish aspiration to destroy these borders is reaching its peak today on the boundary that separates Turkey and Syria. As a result of decades of resistance to these nation states the radical Kurds of Turkey and Syria are taking advantage of the geopolitical shakeup in the region and are declaring their regional autonomy. But before we examine the current situation, a brief sketch of the historical context is in order.

A History of Struggle 

In the midst of the 1st World War, the semi-secret Sykes-Picot pact between Britain and France prefigured the borders which would define Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for a hundred years to come. After a four-year war under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the ‘father’ of modern day Turkey – the Turkish Republic was established by the Lausanne Agreement in 1923. Turkey was not only the outcome of a war of independence but also of a national identity that was thoroughly artificial. This Turkish identity began to erase all other ethnicities and cultures within its territory which it regarded as a threat, and the Kurdish people and culture were at the top of this list. After being carved up and divided by the imperial powers of Europe, the Kurds now found themselves being erased by the burgeoning Turkish nationalism.

The 20th century history of the Kurds within the borders of the new Turkey was a bitter chronicle of rebellion and ensuing massacres. The revolt in Dersim province in 1937/38 is only one example; it left more than 10,000 Kurds dead and at least as many forceably removed from their homes.

Without doubt the most resilient Kurdish resistance movement emerged with the formation of the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, in 1978. Formed by Marxist-Leninist students, and led by Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK became a formidable enemy of the Turkish state as it waged a guerrilla war of independence, most aggressively in the late 80s and 90s. At that time, the goal of the PKK was to create a unified Kurdistan according to socialist principles. The PKK operated training camps across the border from Turkey in Iraq but more notably in Syria, especially in the Bekaa Valley near the border of Lebanon. As a testament to its trans-border aspirations, the PKK and its leader Öcalan made a deep impression on Kurds in Western Kurdistan, located in northern Syria. The 30-year civil war left more than 60,000 people dead within Turkish borders, the vast majority of them Kurds, members and sympathizers of the PKK, as well as 4,500 Kurdish villages evacuated and burnt by the Turkish military.

In 1999, Turkish special forces were able to capture Öcalan in Rome, where he was living in exile, by way of Kenya. The Kurdish struggle started to take a new form. From his extreme isolation in an island prison in the middle of the Sea of Marmara, Öcalan began to make references to the Zapatistas and even to the relatively obscure social ecologist Murray Bookchin. The war for independence became transformed into one for autonomy, self-governance and cultural expressions of Kurdish identity, such as the use of the Kurdish language, banned until very recently. More emphasis was placed upon the non-guerrilla organizations of the Kurdish people, that is, their legal political parties but also different modes of civil disobedience and the beginnings of an autonomous form of federative governance.

The Kurds in Turkey were not the only group under the yoke of a repressive nationalist Kemalism. Turkey’s secular ideology, one of the pillars of the Republic, was assiduously guarded by the Turkish Armed Forces and they targeted Islamists of various stripes vying for power. But the tables were turned at the beginning of the 21st century when the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with a program combining neoliberal development and Islam, swiftly rose to power. Then in Oslo in 2008, the AKP, led by the rabid yet shrewd Erdoğan, became the first Turkish government to open a dialogue with PKK leadership. Although window dressing for the most part, such overtures were unheard of until that moment.

In Kurdistan, The Sun Rises from the West

Recently, the situation for the Kurds has taken a different turn, since the days of the Arab Spring and its spread to Syria. The Syrian people were unable to force a swift departure of their despotic leader Bashar Al-Assad, as in the case in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Instead, the country plunged into a still raging war against the last remaining Ba’athist dictatorship in the region. From this desperate mess emerged ‘Rojava’ on the 19th of July, 2012.

Rojava, which means ‘West’ in the Kurdish language, was the product of what is referred to as a Democratic People’s Revolution by those who took advantage of the weakening of the Ba’athist regime, namely the PYD (the Democratic Unity Party). Their territory is comprised of three cantons in northern Syria – Cizîr to the east, Efrîn to the west and Kobanê in the middle. Instead of forming a state, they seek to implement democratic autonomy and self-governance with assemblies that extend down to the neighborhood level. In January of this year, their Democratic Autonomous Assembly passed a “social agreement” which guaranteed decentralization, free education in the native tongue, healthcare, housing and an end to child labor and any discrimination against women.

The radical Kurdish movement’s emphasis on women’s autonomy and empowerment must be underlined. There have been numerous PKK units and guerrilla camps which are only for women. Nearly all political organizations they form have two leaders, one a man and another a woman. Following in this tradition, on 2 April, 2012 in Rojava, an autonomous force, the Women’s Defense Forces (YPJ),was formed within the People’s Defense Forces (YPG). Both the YPG and YPJ have had to defend the revolution of Rojava nearly constantly from both the Ba’athist regime as well as the various stripes of Islamists who have turned Syria into the latest front of their jihad.

A Gang called ISIS

Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, formed in 2009, grew gradually into a full-fledged Salafist organization, expanded its operations to Syria and renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Their form of jihad and a power struggle led to their disavowal by Al Qaeda earlier this year. They quickly became the main destination for Islamic extremists looking to join the holy war. ISIS stepped into the limelight of the Western media with its capture of Mosul in Iraq on June 10,  2014. But the autonomous regions of Rojava had by then been under a fierce ISIS assault for more than a year. On July 2nd, ISIS began a siege of Rojava’s central canton of Kobanê, using military equipment and munitions captured following their victory in Mosul. ISIS is trying to take Kobanê from the east, west and south and this ongoing siege constitutes the most serious threat that Rojava has come under thus far. The Kurdish movement in Turkey identifies deeply with Rojava since the PYD has been enormously influenced by the leadership of Öcalan. Therefore, a threat to the revolution in Rojava also constitutes a serious threat to the aspirations of regional autonomy for Kurds living within the borders of Turkey. In addition, many believe that the Turkish state is using ISIS in a proxy war against Kurdish autonomy by supplying them with arms and intelligence and free movement across its borders.

Following the ISIS siege of Kobanê, Kurdish and leftist political actors in Turkey, namely the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), mobilized to intervene in the situation. Starting on 9th July, they set up four different encampments along the border in strategic locations to prevent regular ISIS movements in and out of Turkey, bringing their wounded to Turkish hospitals, and receiving logistical support from the Turkish state. These encampments have also been used as staging grounds for crossing the border en masse to join the YPG and YPJ forces in their defense of Kobanê. The current climate within the Kurdish movement in Turkey is one of a wartime mobilization with daily calls by party members for the youth to remove the borders and join the defense forces in Rojava.

One of the largest cexcursions in defiance of the border came on 14th July, when approximately 300 youth crossed into Kobanê and were greeted by YPG members on the other side to guide them across the minefield between the border and Kobanê. But this was only the prelude to what would be a historic celebration of the Kurdish struggle for regional autonomy, on the second anniversary of the revolution in Rojava.

Destroying the Border

All day and into the night on the 18th of July, thousands of Kurds flooded into the encampment in the township of Pirsus (Suruç in Turkish). Tents had been set up near the village of Alizer, a village literally divided by the border between Turkey and Syria. People came from all over Kurdistan to celebrate the revolution in Rojava and to remove the border so as to join their compatriots on the other side in their war against ISIS. The next day, on the 19th, the air was filled with dry dust as the camp was set up in the middle of a fallow field under gusts of scorching winds. The sun beat down at 45ºC yet people kept coming and joined in the ongoing halay (a circular dance popular amongst Kurds). With more people came more and more tanks and armored personal carriers belonging to the Turkish military as well as water cannons and other armored police vehicles. The tanks and troops of the Turkish military arrived from a nearby base which has the words “The border is our honor” emblazoned on its entrance. Yet the Kurdish villagers and militant youth were not intimidated by the show of force and remained determined to destroy this border between them and their comrades under siege. On the other side of the border, thousands of Kurds from Kobanê arrived to embrace those separated from them by flimsy barbed wire. As nighttime set in and the air became cooler, fireworks started to light the sky in a great celebration of the revolution. People were restless and the barbed wire lost any semblance of the deterrent it once represented. The stage was set for a spectacular confrontation.

And that confrontation came as expected. After the barbed wire was cut a few hundred Kurdish youth crossed into Kobanê to be greeted by a delegation from the YPG. The police and military brutally attacked the celebration, launching hundreds of teargas canisters into the area as well as assaulting the crowd with batons and water cannons. The perseverance of the people was inspiring, as everyone – from bold young tearaways to aged grandmothers – joined the resistance against the forces of the Turkish state with rocks, molotov cocktails and fireworks. From the stage came directives for people to come and join those fighting or at least to come with their cars to help evacuate the wounded. After a two-hour battle, the police and soldiers forced their way into the area with the tents and set fire to it all.

Five hours later, the military launched an operation against another encampment thirty kilometres away, near the village of Ziyaret, at the township of Birecik. The front lines of the siege of the Kobanê canton are visible from this point and this camp was strategically placed to sabotage ISIS movements and provide support and solidarity to the YPG. The people at that camp fought the military off and regained control of the camp only to have to endure another more vicious attack the following morning, on 21st July, during which the soldiers and police burned the tents and destroyed the cars of those there, arresting eight people after beating them.

Rojava for the Middle East

In the Western media when one hears of Kurds or Kurdistan it is most often in reference to Mesud Barzani and the Kurdish territory under his control in northern Iraq, which has also extended its sovereignty in the current context created by ISIS. It must be pointed out that this political formation has only minimal affinity with the radical revolutionary one launched by the PYD in Rojava. In fact both the PYD and PKK often find themselves in open conflict with Barzani’s vision for the Kurds. Occasionally doing the bidding of colonial states, Barzani is also a frequent visitor of Erdoğan. Recently he flew to Ankara to meet with him and discuss the situation unfolding in the region.

The siege around Kobanê by ISIS is continuing but the YPG and YPJ are determined to thwart it. They see the defense of Kobanê as the crucial battle to keep the battle for Kurdish autonomy alive. Many compare this current mobilization to that which took place in defense of the Spanish Revolution against the fascists in the 1930s. The crushing of the Spanish Revolution had global repercussions that are still being felt today. Similarly, the perseverance of the revolution in Rojava is the only hope for a different kind of Middle East, where peoples come together in solidarity with each other rather than at war under sectarianism stoked by colonial powers.

“Bijî Berxwedana Rojava”.  Long Live the Rojava Resistance.

The author can be reached at:


25263855Woman making victory sign at the camp in Suruç (credit: Hürriyet)

19Temmuz2014_Suruc-Kobane_1Hundreds crossing the border to join the forces of the YPG on July 19th (credit: Mücadele Birliği)

10522087_326157697549823_116273761071122210_nThe encampment destroyed by the military and police (credit: BDP)

2014-07-20-suruc-sinirinda-sicak-saatlerRhe camp burning (credit: şanlı Urfa Güncel)

annelerkobane1A Kobanê village where a group of mothers have armed themselves against ISIS (credit: Özgür Gündem)

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Translation and Expectation: Which ‘For Bread Alone’ Are You Reading?

August 24th, 2014 · Arab Culture, Arabic, Translation

via the always excellent Arab Literature (in English):

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Yesterday, ArabLit posted about a new Mohamed Choukri International Award while making only slight mention of the circumstances under which Choukri’s internationally acclaimed al-Khubz al-Hafi was translated into English. Indeed, calling it a translation is perhaps inaccurate: 

khubzAddressing this issue is Nirvana Tanoukhi’s “Rewriting Political Commitment for an International Canon: Paul Bowles’s For Bread Alone as Translation of Mohamed Choukri’s Al-Khubz Al-Hafi” (2003).

Any translation will differ from its original, absolutely. And any translator and author may well differ in how they read the book and how they understand what makes a (good) literary work. But the Choukri-Bowles collaboration is an extreme case for several reasons. First, Bowles didn’t read classical Arabic (fos7a) at all, and had only a limited knowledge of Moroccan colloquial Arabic (darija). The translation thus took place verbally, by way of Spanish, some French, and a bit of darija.

But this is perhaps not the central issue. The central issue, as Tanoukhi posits it, is that Bowles’s translation rewrites — or attempts to rewrite — Choukri’s original as a “third world” text (oral, pre-literate, pre-nationalist, apolitical) for inclusion into a Western-centered world literature canon.

Bowles — perhaps like other writers gathered in Tangier in the early 1970s — saw illiteracy and “primitivism” as a privileged state. Although Tanoukhi notes that Bowles’s interest in oral culture has been praised as an attempt to decenter the Western canon, she paints it as more akin to an interest in the “noble savage.” Bowles’s focus on the “preliterate imagination” was central. Indeed, all the other Moroccan writers who Bowles “translated” — all except Choukri — were illiterate storytellers. Bowles also envisioned Choukri as somehow more-or-less illiterate, since he hadn’t learned to read and write as a child, but as an adult.

Tanoukhi writes: “Bowles’s collaboration with Moroccan storytellers has been seen by his admirers to exemplify an equal partnership by which a sympathetic interlocutor gives voice to an illiterate native.” We won’t go into the fraught territory of “giving voice,” but you can well imagine that these writers already had their own voices, thank you very much.

Five years after For Bread Alone‘s English-language publication, Tanoukhi writes, Bowles wrote about the tension behind their collaboration. Why tension? Tanoukhi writes that:

…a careful examination of the Bowles translation, For Bread Alone (1973), and the Arabic text, Al-Khubz Al-Hafi (1982), shows that there are significant differences between the two versions that recur in recognizable patterns and point to diverging horizons of expectations.

In the end, Tanoukhi argues, the two works were no longer sisters, but perhaps cousins separated at birth and raised on separate continents. Cousins who might not much like each other if they met at a party.

Bowles wrote, five years after the publication of For Bread Alone:

Had I known how difficult it would be to make English translations of Mohamed Choukri’s texts I doubt that I should have undertaken the work [. . .]. When we were translating his autobiographyFor Bread Alone, he sat beside me, in order to see that I was making a word-for-word translation of his text. If he noticed an extra comma he demanded an explanation. I was driven to reiterating: but English is not Arabic!

It sounds fair enough. English isn’t Arabic, and comma patterns vary. But Tanoukhi suggests not an overprotective author and reasonable translator, but instead that, “After having had the freedom to ‘translate, edit, and to cut’ other storytellers’ material, Bowles was impatient with Choukri’s desire to control the textual integrity of the work.”

This is all relatively well-known. But it’s the details that are not just eye-opening, but open a lens through which to look at other translations. Tanoukhi writes that one text addresses a “politically committed social realist paradigm” (the Arabic) while the other was “unconcerned with politics” (the English).

Whole passages are missing, Tanoukhi writes. For instance: “They spent many days without food. They did not want to beg their neighbors for food. So they built a door on the inside of their house from rocks and clay, locking themselves in until they died.”*  This passage, which establishes a causal, political link between hunger and later actions, is erased.

Also, sexuality is positioned very differently in the two texts. When Mohamed’s aunt demands an explanation of why he had sex with a boy, in English, his response is, “I don’t understand myself.” In the Arabic: “In Tetuan, the thighs of prostitutes were available to me in the Saniya Bordello. But here, who can I desire? Am I supposed to desire your thighs? Monique’s thighs are her husband’s. Yours are your own husband’s. And what about me?”

Another pair of passages on sexuality:

From the Arabic: “I felt his teeth on me. What if he bites it? To speed my ejaculation, I imagined raping Asiya in Tetuan.”

From Bowles’s English: “The idea cooled my enthusiasm. To bring it back, I began to imagine that I was deflowering Asiya in Tetuan”

Next, in the Arabic, after the above encounter: “I was overcome by the desire to cry. What do I do with this old man who just sucked me?”

And the English: “Are all the maricones as nice as he was?”

In one version, as Tanoukhi writes, economic need pushes Mohamed toward illicit sex — with a young boy and an older man. In the other, it’s the confused search for erotic pleasure.

Economic need is erased elsewhere as well. The explanation for why Mohamed wasn’t brought to school as a young boy in the Arabic: “It’s just that we’re too poor, and learning costs a lot [in Tetuan].” And in the English: “I don’t know. But he didn’t ever take me to any school.”

The Arabic was published nearly a decade after the English, and while Choukri said he made only minor edits, it’s possible some of them are found here. In any case, the differences between these two versions are extreme, and most contemporary translators wouldn’t go quite so far in re-crafting a book. But pointing toward a different horizon of expecations is important, as even much smaller changes in tone and wording can have a broad effect.

Also, if the issues with Choukri’s estate are now cleared up, it’s time for a new translation.

*All re-translations by Tanoukhi.

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Uri Avnery: Son of Death

August 23rd, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Israel, Palestinian people

Uri Avnery / August 23, 2014


Palestinians search for belongings amid destroyed homes that perished during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Friday. [Reuters/Mohammed Salem]

 Son of Death

THE WAR was over. Families returned to their kibbutzim near Gaza. Kindergartens opened up again. A ceasefire was in force and extended again and again. Obviously, both sides were exhausted. 

And then, suddenly, the war came back.

What happened? Well, Hamas launched rockets against Beersheba in the middle of the ceasefire.

Why? No why. You know how the terrorists are. Bloodthirsty. They can’t help it. Just like scorpions.

But it is not so simple. 

THE CAIRO talks were near success, or so it seemed. But Binyamin Netanyahu was in trouble. He hid the Egyptian draft agreement for a long ceasefire even from his cabinet colleagues. They learned about it only from the media, which disclosed it from Palestinian sources.

Apparently, the draft said that the blockade would be greatly relaxed, if not officially ended. Talks about the building of a port and airport were to start within a month.

What? What did Israel get out of this? After all the shooting and killing, with 64 Israeli soldiers dead, after all the grandiose speeches about our resounding victory, was that all? No wonder Netanyahu tried to hide the document.

The Israeli delegation was called home without signing. The exasperated Egyptian mediators got another 24 hour extension of the ceasefire. It was to expire at midnight on Tuesday, but everybody on both sides expected it to be extended again and again. And then it happened.

At about 16.00 hours, three rockets were fired at Beersheba and fell into open spaces. No warning sirens. Curiously enough, Hamas denied having launched them, and no other Palestinian organization took responsibility. This was strange. After every previous launching from Gaza, some Palestinian organization has always proudly claimed credit.

As usual, Israeli airplanes promptly started to retaliate and bombed buildings in the Gaza Strip. As usual, rockets rained down on Israel. (I heard the interceptions in Tel Aviv).

BUSINESS AS usual? Not quite.

First it became known that an hour before the rockets came in, the Israeli population near Gaza was warned by the army to prepare their shelters and “safe spaces”.

Then it appeared that the first Gaza building hit belonged to the family of a Hamas military commander. Three people were killed, among them a baby and his mother.

And then the news spread: It was the family of Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. (Qassam was a Palestinian hero, the first rebel against British rule in Palestine in the 1930s. He was hunted down and killed by the British.) Among those killed this Tuesday were Deif’s wife and baby son. But it seems that Deif himself was not there.

That in itself is no wonder. Deif has survived at least four attempts to assassinate him. He has lost an eye and several limbs, but always came out alive.

All around him, his successive commanders, political and military peers and subordinates, dozens of them, have been assassinated throughout the years. But he has led a charmed life. 

Now he heads the Israeli hit list, the most wanted and hunted Palestinian activist. He is the No. 1 “Son of Death”, a rather biblical appellation used in Israel for those marked for assassination.

Like most inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Deif is a child of refugees from Israel. His family comes from the village Kawkaba, now in Israel, not far from Gaza. I passed through it in the 1948 war, before it was razed to the ground. 

For the Israeli Security Service, he is a prize for which it is well worth breaking the ceasefire and reigniting the war.  


FOR MANY security agencies around the world, including the American and the Russian, assassination is a sport and an art.

Israel claims to hold the gold medal.

An assassination is a complicated operation. It requires a lot of time, expertise, patience and luck. The operators have to recruit informers near the victim, install electronic devices, obtain precise information about his every movement, execute their design within minutes once the opportunity presents itself.

Because of this, there is no time for confirmation from above. Perhaps the Security Service (usually called Shin Bet) got permission from Netanyahu, its sole political chief, perhaps not.

They obviously were informed that Deif was visiting his family. That was a golden opportunity. For months, indeed for years, Deif has been living underground, in the literal sense – somewhere in the maze of tunnels his men had dug beneath the Strip.  He was never sighted.

Since the beginning of this war, all the other prominent Hamas leaders have also been living under the ground. From Ismail Haniyeh down, not one of them has been seen. The unlimited command of the air by Israeli planes and drones makes this advisable. Hamas has no anti-air weapons.

It seems to me highly unlikely that Deif would risk his life by visiting his family. But Shin Bet obviously got a lead and believed it. The three strange rockets fired on Beersheba provided the pretext for breaking the ceasefire, and so the war started again.

Real aficionados of the art of assassination are not very interested in the political or military consequences of their actions. “Art for art’s sake”.

A propos, the last Gaza war, two years ago, started the same way. The Israeli army assassinated the de-facto al-Qassam leader, Ahmed Jaabari. The ensuing war with its many hundreds of dead was just collateral damage.

Jaabari was at the time filling in for Deif, who was convalescing in Cairo.


ALL THIS is, of course, much too complicated for American and European diplomats. They like simple stories.

The White House immediately reacted to the resumption of hostilities by condemning the Hamas launching of rockets and reaffirming that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. The Western media parroted this line.

For Netanyahu, whether he knew in advance of the assassination attempt or not, it was a way out of a dilemma. He was in the unfortunate position of many leaders in history who start a war and do not know how to get out of it.

In a war, a leader makes grandiloquent speeches, promises victory and bountiful achievements. These promises seldom come true. (If they do, like in Versailles 1919, that may be even worse.)

Netanyahu is a gifted marketing man, if nothing else. He promised a lot, and the people believed him and gave him a 77% rating. The Egyptian draft proposal for a permanent ceasefire, though markedly pro-Israel, fell far short of a victory for Israel. It only confirmed that the war ended in a draw. Netanyahu’s own cabinet was rebellious, public opinion was souring perceptibly. The resumption of the war got him out of this hole.

But what now?

BOMBING THE Gaza population draws more and more criticism from world public opinion. It also has lost its appeal in Israel. The maxim “Let’s bomb them until they stop hating us” obviously does not work.

The alternative is to enter the Gaza Strip and occupy it completely, so that even Deif and his men have to come up to the surface to be assassinated. But that is a dangerous proposition.

When I was a soldier in the 1948 war, we were taught never to get into a situation which leaves the enemy no way out. In such a case, he will fight to the end, causing many casualties.

There is no way out of the Gaza Strip. If the Israeli army is sent to conquer the entire Strip, the fighting will be ferocious, causing hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian dead and injured, and untold destruction. The Prime Minister will be one of the political victims.

Netanyahu is fully aware of that. He doesn’t want it. But what else can he do?  One can almost pity the man.

He can of course, order the army to occupy only parts of the Strip, a village here, a town there. But that will also spread death and destruction, to no manifest gain. In the end, public discontent will be the same.

Hamas threatened this week to open “the gates of hell” for us. This hardly affects the inhabitants of Tel Aviv, but for the villages and towns near Gaza this is really hell. Casualties are few, but fear is devastating. Families with children leave en masse. When calm returns, they try to go home, but then the next rockets drive them away again.

Their plight evokes a very strong emotional response throughout the country. No politician can ignore it. Least of all the Prime Minister. He needs to end the war. He also needs a clear image of victory. But how to achieve this?

The Egyptian dictator tries to help. So does Barack Obama, though he is furious with Netanyahu and hates his guts. So does Mahmoud Abbas, who is afraid of a Hamas victory.

But as of now, the man who has the final decision is the Son of Death, Mohammed Deif, if he is alive and kicking. If not, his successor.

If he is alive, the assassination of his wife and baby son may not have made him gentler and more peaceable.

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Palestinian Poet Samih al-Qasim Dies at 75

August 20th, 2014 · Obituaries, Palestine, Poet, Poetry

Via the always excellent Arab Literature (in English):

I don’t like you, death
But I’m not afraid of you
And I know that my body is your bed
And my spirit is your bed cover
I know that your banks are narrow for me
I don’t love you, death
But I’m not afraid of you.-One of Samih al-Qasim’s final poemssamih2Beloved Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, followinga worsening of his health this past week. He was 75.Al-Qasim — whose stature in Palestine ranked alongside Mahmoud Darwish’s — will be widely mourned.

Al-Qasim was born in 1939 in the Jordanian city of az-Zarqa, where his father was working at the time. He hailed from a Druze family from the town of Rameh in the Upper Galilee, and attended school there and in Nazareth, as his family did not flee in 1948.

As Dr. Issa Boullata wrote over at World Literature Today:

Together with poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Zayyad, Rashed Hussein, and others in Israel, he expressed Palestinian opposition to Israel in the 1950s in recurrent oral poetic recitations at village gatherings—activities that were celebrated in the Arab world as “resistance poetry” and later published. Al-Qasim was eighteen when his first collection of poems was published, and he was to experience Israeli prisons several times because of his writings, face personal trouble in his livelihood, and publish censored poems.

He was one of the first Druze to refuse to serve in the Israeli army and is credited, along with Darwish, with founding Palestinian resistance literature. As his stature grew, he wrote poems that were recited and sung across the region, often set to music by Marcel Khalife.Ghassan Kanafani wrote of Al Qasim’s poem “Kafr Qasim” that it was “memorized throughout the entire Galilee.”

However, in a recent interview, al-Qasim told Liam Brown that he doesn’t care how he will be remembered:

“If the Palestinian people will be free, if the Arab world will be united, if social justice will be victorious in all the world, if there will be international peace. I don’t care who will remember me or my poems. I don’t care.”

Regardless, al-Qasim will be long remembered, for his poems, his journalism, and his activism.

Many other Palestinian poets penned tributes to al-Qasim on Tuesday, including Mourid Barghouti and Majeed al-Barghouthi:


Al-Qasim also recently published a memoir, It Is Just an Ashtray. In Al-Akhbar‘s review, they quote from the wide-ranging book:

“One day I was marching in a large protest in Haifa and I was chanting with protesters ‘Jewish-Arab Brotherhood.’ Suddenly a Jewish Israeli challenged me from across the side walk yelling ‘this will never happen. There will be no such brotherhood!’” al-Qasim says, adding, “In a flash…I told that provocative person ‘hell if I care’ and continued on my way marching enthusiastically…”

Only one collection of al-Qasim’s works, Sadder than Water, trans. Nazih Kassis, has been published in English translation. However, numerous individual poems have also made their way across the language barrier.

One of his most well-known, “Travel Tickets,” trans. A.Z. Foreman:

The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one to the conscience of humankind.
Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.

Selected works by Al-Qasim:

PBS: Samih al-Qasim Reads ‘End of the Talk with a Jailer’

The Guardian: There was a village called Sireen 

PoemHunter: Six poems

The ArabArts Blog: From The Qur’an of Death and Jasmine

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“Rigwreck”: Music by Gabriel Jackson; Poem by Pierre Joris

August 16th, 2014 · Music, Poetry

“Rigwreck” – Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962, UK)

The Crossing gives the world premiere of Gabriel Jackson’s “Rigwreck” on the third concert of our fifth annual Month of Moderns Festival at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill on June 30th, 2013.

“Rigwreck” was commissioned as part of “The Gulf (between you and me),” a series of 3 works from 3 separate composers dealing with the BP Oil Spill Crisis in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. One piece was premiered on each of the three Month of Moderns concerts in 2013. The text of “Rigwreck” was originally composed by Pierre Joris.

Jackson writes of the work:

Pierre Joris’s poem is, for me, both petrified and dynamic. I have tried to reflect that in the setting, which is somewhat halting at first, acquiring greater momentum towards the end. The internal repetitions of the text, its assonances and alliterations, its complex wordplay are, I hope, given their musical due without being overly schematic. Some words or phrases are always set to the same music, sometimes the resonances are more allusive. In some ways the word “love” is the most important; it is certainly given the most expansive musical treatment, for that is, surely, as it should be.

Learn more about Gabriel Jackson and his music here:…

Sound recording by Digital Mission Audio Services:

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