Monthly Archives: July 2015

Zeina Hashem Beck: “Beirut Just Drips Off the Page”

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A dazzling poet whose work puts you right in the middle of the Middle East, Zeina Hashem Beck is definitely someone you don’t want to miss. Her poetry has been described by Alexander McNabb, co-host of the Dubai Eye radio show “Talking of Books” as so vivid, “Beirut just drips off the page.” And if Beirut never interested you before, you may have to reconsider. In her new book, To Live in Autumn, she describes the heart of a war-torn, politicized, exotic, heartbroken, and fascinating place that is also very personal and as any war-ravaged place, grief-stricken. Beyond this description, we enter her city through the richness of imagination and deftly chosen words. Much of her poetry can be found through her website, which will give you links, and on which is printed this poem. To avoid copyright issues, I will only print here the poem from her website. But I also highly recommend checking out this poem in Poetry Northwest, “We Who Have Decided to Live in Autumn.” Breathtaking.

After the Explosions (published in Mslexia)

For Tripoli, Lebanon, August 2013

After the explosions, I’ve been having ash-dreams;
everything’s grey, even the children’s pencil cases.
September with its play of light and possibilities
burst in unnoticed. My dead cousin
comes to me smiling, tries to pinch me, laughs.
Two days after the explosions, the pharmacy parrot
who wouldn’t keep quiet was found alive;
he doesn’t speak, but meows from time to time.
The owner jokes, “This country will have him
barking soon.” The trees seem to remember
the human parts in their branches.
Some elevators have sprung out of their places
like frightened hearts. I try not to think
about the three children who died holding
each other in a van, after a day at the beach.

I take my mind past the broken balconies,
into my friend’s shattered house, stare at the frame
still hanging on the cracked wall: a fishing boat, a calm
sea. The volunteers are sweeping the street, the kid
who sells chewing gum is helping. The survivor
with an eye patch says it sounded like glass rain.
My aunt sings goodbye to her son from the window,
the red tarboosh on his coffin in the distance,
her white handkerchief taking flight.

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Filed under Middle East poetry, Poetry, Poetry Books, Poets, women poets

Remembering Poet James Tate 1943-2015

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James Tate, a highly imaginative poet, died on July 8 after a long illness. Sad to lose such a genius. And so many wonderful poems, but this is one of my favorites. The enjoyment starts with the title!

A Vagabond

By James Tate

A vagabond is a newcomer
in a heap of trouble.
He’s an eyeball at a peephole
that should be electrocuted.
He’s a leper in a textile mill
and likely to be beheaded, I mean,
given a liverwurst sandwich
on the break by the brook
where the loaves are sliced.
But he oughtn’t meddle
with the powder puffs on the golf links—
they have their own goats to tame,
dirigibles to situate.
He can act like an imbecile
if the climate is propitious,
a magnate of kidnap
paradising around the oily depot,
or a speck from a distant nebula
wishing to purchase a certain skyscraper ….

Well, if it’s permitted, then
let’s regulate him, let’s testify
against his thimble, and moderate his gloves
before they sew an apron.

The local minister is thinking
of moving to Holland, exchanging
his old ballads for some lingerie.
“Zatso!” says the vagabond.
Homeless, like wheat that tattletales
on the sermon, like wages swigged.
“Zatso, zatso, zatso!” cries the vagabond.
The minister reels under the weight
of his thumbs, the vagabond seems to have
jutted into his kernel, disturbed
his terminal core. Slowly, and with
trifling dignity, the minister removes
from his lapel his last campaign button:
Don’t Mess with Raymond, New Hampshire.

—————

James Tate, “A Vagabond” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1991 by James Tate. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

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New Villanelle in Atavic Poetry!!!!

Today my villanelle, “Dark Phoenix,” has been published in the beautiful online venue, Atavic Poetry. Each poem is accompanied by photos selected by the artistically sensitive editor. Couldn’t be happier with this. Check it out!

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New Poem in Right Hand Pointing!!!

The new issue of Right Hand Pointing, the place to go for unique short poetry online, is up with a new poem of mine, “New Hampshire.” It was written for their submissions call for poems whose title is the name of a U.S. state, but although that issue was filled up, it was still published in the following, now current, issue.

The poem is in what I sometimes call my “strangled alphabet” form, in which only the letters in the title can be used in the poem, no letter used in a single word more times than it is used in the title. This is a variation on a lipogram, made more difficult with the frequency limitation.

Despite these limitations, the form sometimes forces me to come up with more imaginative wordplay. This poem was much fun to write! Hope you’ll stop by and read it.

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Different Ways to Pray: Naomi Shihab Nye

Here’s a poem by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye, which I think continues my theme of poems relating to Ramadan.

Different Ways to Pray

BY Naomi Shihab Nye

There was the method of kneeling,
a fine method, if you lived in a country
where stones were smooth.
The women dreamed wistfully of bleached courtyards,
hidden corners where knee fit rock.
Their prayers were weathered rib bones,
small calcium words uttered in sequence,
as if this shedding of syllables could somehow
fuse them to the sky.

There were the men who had been shepherds so long
they walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms—
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
But the olives bobbed peacefully
in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.

Some prized the pilgrimage,
wrapping themselves in new white linen
to ride buses across miles of vacant sand.
When they arrived at Mecca
they would circle the holy places,
on foot, many times,
they would bend to kiss the earth
and return, their lean faces housing mystery.

While for certain cousins and grandmothers
the pilgrimage occurred daily,
lugging water from the spring
or balancing the baskets of grapes.
These were the ones present at births,
humming quietly to perspiring mothers.
The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses,
forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

There were those who didn’t care about praying.
The young ones. The ones who had been to America.
They told the old ones, you are wasting your time.
Time?—The old ones prayed for the young ones.
They prayed for Allah to mend their brains,
for the twig, the round moon,
to speak suddenly in a commanding tone.

And occasionally there would be one
who did none of this,
the old man Fowzi, for example, Fowzi the fool,
who beat everyone at dominoes,
insisted he spoke with God as he spoke with goats,
and was famous for his laugh.

——————-
——————-

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Different Ways to Pray” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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Filed under Middle East poetry, Poetry, Poets, Women's poetry

Ramadan: Kazim Ali

Another poem for Ramadan, entitled “Ramadan,” by Kazem Ali. This one plays with the concept of “the Night of Power,” or Laylat al-Qadr, the night in Ramadan where the heavens are opened for prayers to be answered, a night filled with angels, inhospitable to djinn or other evil influences. This night is not named directly, but the fact that one never knows exactly which night it will be is clear in the poem.

Ramadan

By Kazim Ali

You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—

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The Ghazal Page Revamped: with 2 Ghazals of Mine + Many More!!

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The Ghazal Page, the place to find top-notch poems in the ghazal form, both traditional and experimental, is now live with a brand new issue, one I’m especially honored to have ghazals included in, among a stellar array of poets. Two of my ghazals, both fairly traditional, coincidentally about the Middle East (!) are in it: “Honor,” a new ghazal based on the true story of a relative (uncle by marriage) and the horrific case of “honor killings;” and “In Egypt,” about a part of my life lived there.

You shouldn’t miss the other ghazals, some with must-read titles, and the rest doesn’t disappoint. It’s an inspiring form, one I seem to gravitate toward. The site itself is gorgeous, thanks to editor Holly Jensen, who has worked hard to keep the “Page” alive (though it’s much more than a “page”) after the death of its dedicate founder, Gene Doty. Enjoy!!

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Filed under Formal Poetry, Middle East poetry, Poetry, Publications, Siham Karami poetry