Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Qabbani (21 March 1923 – 30 April 1998)

Through a lifetime of writing, Qabbani made women his main theme and inspiration. He earned a reputation for daring with the publication in 1954 of his first volume of verse, "Childhood of a Breast," whose erotic and romantic themes broke from the conservative traditions of Arab literature. The suicide of his sister, who was unwilling to marry a man she did not love, had a profound effect on Qabbani. Thereafter, he expressed resentment of male chauvinism and often wrote from a woman's viewpoint and advocated social freedoms for women.



He had lived in London since 1967 but the Syrian capital remained a powerful presence in his poems, most notably in "The Jasmine Scent of Damascus."

After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he founded the Nizar Qabbani publishing house in London, and his became a powerful and eloquent voice of lament for Arab causes.

Qabbani was a committed Arab nationalist and in recent years his poetry and other writings, including essays and journalism, had become more political. His writing also often fused themes of romantic and political despair.

Qabbani's later poems included a strong strain of anti-authoritarianism. One couplet in particular -- "O Sultan, my master, if my clothes are ripped and torn it is because your dogs with claws are allowed to tear me" -- is sometimes quoted by Arabs as a kind of wry shorthand for their frustration with life under dictatorship.

His second wife, Balqis al-Rawi, an Iraqi teacher whom he had met at a poetry recital in Baghdad, was killed in a bomb attack by pro-Iranian guerrillas in Beirut, where she was working for the cultural section of the Iraqi Ministry.



Nizar Qabbani died in London of a heart attack at the age of 75 

Nizar Qabbani had written that poem called Footnotes to the Book of Setback after the 1967 war between the Israel and Egypt-Jordan-Syria forces.
1
Friends,
The old word is dead.
The old books are dead.
Our speech with holes like worn-out shoes is dead.
Dead is the mind that led to defeat.
2
Our poetry has gone sour.
Women’s hair, nights, curtains and sofas
Have gone sour.
Everything has gone sour.
3
My grieved country,
In a flash
You changed me from a poet who wrote love poems
To a poet who writes with a knife.
4
What we feel is beyond words:
We should be ashamed of our poems.
5
Stirred by Oriental bombast,
By boastful swaggering that never killed a fly,
By the fiddle and the drum,
We went to war
And lost.
6
Our shouting is louder than our actions,
Our swords are taller than us,
This is our tragedy.
7
In short
We wear the cape of civilization
But our souls live in the stone age.
8
You don’t win a war
With a reed and a flute.
9
Our impatience
Cost us fifty thousand new tents.
10
Don’t curse heaven
If it abandons you,
Don’t curse circumstances.
God gives victory to whom He wishes.
God is not a blacksmith to beat swords.
11
It’s painful to listen to the news in the morning.
It’s painful to listen to the barking of dogs.
12
Our enemies did not cross the border
They crept through our weakness like ants.
13
Five thousand years
Growing beards
In our caves.
Our currency is unknown,
Our eyes are a haven for flies.
Friends,
Smash the doors,
Wash your brains,
Wash your clothes.
Friends,
Read a book,
Write a book,
Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,
Sail to the country of fog and snow.
Nobody knows you exist in caves.
People take you for a breed of mongrels.
14
We are thick-skinned people
With empty souls.
We spend our days practicing witchcraft,
Playing chess and sleeping.
And we the ‘Nation by which God blessed mankind’?
15
Our desert oil could have become
Daggers of flame and fire.
We’re a disgrace to our noble ancestors:
We let our oil flow through the toes of whores.
16
We run wildly through streets
Dragging people with ropes,
Smashing windows and locks.
We praise like frogs,
Swear like frogs,
Turn midgets into heroes,
And heroes into scum:
We never stop and think.
In mosques
We crouch idly,
Write poems,
Proverbs
And beg God for victory
Over our enemy.
17
If I knew I’d come to no harm,
And could see the Sultan,
I’d tell him:
‘Sultan,
Your wild dogs have torn my clothes
Your spies hound me
Their eyes hound me
Their noses hound me
Their feet hound me
They hound me like Fate
Interrogate my wife
And take down the names of my friends,
Sultan,
When I came close to your walls
And talked about my pains,
Your soldiers beat me with their boots,
Forced me to eat my shoes.
Sultan,
You lost two wars.
Sultan,
Half of our people are without tongues,
What’s the use of people without tongues?
Half of our people
Are trapped like ants and rats
Between walls´.
If I knew I’d come to no harm
I’d tell him:
‘You lost two wars
You lost touch with children’
18
If we hadn’t buried our unity
If we hadn’t ripped its young body with bayonets
If it had stayed in our eyes
The dogs wouldn’t have savaged our flesh.
19
We want an angry generation
To plough the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants.
20
Arab children,
Corn ears of the future,
You will break out chains.
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.
Arab children,
Don’t read about our windowless generation,
We are a hopeless case.
We are as worthless as water-melon rind.
Don’t read about us,
Don’t ape us,
Don’t accept us,
Don’t accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.
Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are a generation
That will overcome defeat.

(Translation by Abdullah al-Udhari)


Cartoons in the United Arab Emirates





Hamdoon, a cartoon character, is more and more popular in the Emirates particularly among the locals who use that word as a diminutive for Hamdan, a very common name which also refers to the typically Emirati way of wearing the tarha, the head-scarf.



Supported by official institutions like the Khalifa Fund to Support and Develop Small & Medium Enterprises and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, Hamdoon, created by Abdullah Mohammad Al Sharhan (عبدالله محمد الشرهان), is another attempt to foster the Emirati (political) identity with popular cartoon characters, popular with the young generation, like (Ajaaj in Dubai a few months ago.



Cartoons are flourishing in the Emirates, but not only for the young. The coming Ramadan should see new episodes of very successful series directed to a family audience, like Shaabiyat al-cartoon (شعبية الكرتون), by Haydar Muhammad (حيدر محمد), or Freej (فريج, for “the district”), a rather unconventional carton created by Mohammed Harib (محمد حارب) whose main characters are four aged ladies commenting the amazing transformations in the Emirates.

From Hamdoon to Freej, via Ajaaj and many others, cartoons are not at all stripped off of some political meaning.