We are not an island,
except to whoever sees us from the sea.
Wine in half the cup,
the other half was not empty;
it was lost in ecstasy
is to breathe unused air.
They delighted in sleeping
because of the treasures it lay
between their eyes.
I write about love
the way a child draws his impressions of
An impossible dream
is kinder than a rampant delusion.
The curtain on the window
is an orderly more powerful
than his sultan.
A vessel between water and fire,
an enticement for flames.
He counted his friends to me
on the fingers of his hand.
Then I realized
that his hand had no fingers.
To rule = terror to force acceptance.
To dissent = terror to force resistance.
Both seek to grant prosperity to the people
under one power.
I am not free to accept.
I am free only to oppose.
I see the wind playing with the banner
of this place,
while people go without air.
A space crowded with answers.
Everyone is singed with answers.
Answers in every comer,
and in everything
there are questions.
He wants to apologize,
not because he was an enemy
but because he revealed himself as one.
Pigs are useful too.
They sing about the garbage bins.
She is like a state.
She puts on her make-up
and talks to her mirror,
and never listens to people.
All this night
is not enough for my dreams.
we do nothing but confirm the futility
that has been impossible to detect.
I let my memory graze on its own…
To forget the wound and remember the knife.
is said to be the opposite of the past,
and we are in an endless present.
I have many secrets.
I stud them in my poems
and I toss them in the air of language.
Someone has to expose them.
This person I do not know
and who does not know me,
why is he so late in arriving
to the loneliness of the sidewalk.
The children grind their teeth,
and grind with their hearts.
you are not alone.
There are countless other hermits.
I look at them;
they are ready to change their stances
by simply shuffling their shoes.
They meet to dialogue
and they exchange points of view
the way they exchange masks.
is a flagrant accommodation of folly.
You will not convince him with words
if he is not convinced by reality.
Before you sleep
place a rose on your chest.
What is the difference..
between someone blind
and someone who does not want to see.
The clicking of my chains fills the place,
who claim freedom.
My lip trembles now before a word...
My lip is defeated.
Be prepared... the past is coming.
|(banebal) magazineTranslated by Khaled Mattawa From Naqd aL-Amal. Dar aL-Kunooz al-Adabiya, Beirut 1998|
Qassim Haddad : Resignation and Revolution
In this time of loss direction and disturbance of spirits, Qassim Haddad mirrors in his verses the reality of fragmentation in contemporary Arabic society. Haddad's work reflects the social, political and spiritual state of a nation in predicament. His writing is filled with shocking images, allusions and enigmas. In one of his untitled poems in "Uzlat al-Malikat" ( Isolation of Queens1985, ) Haddad displays a surrealist scene, which similar to the Arab life: while standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone or something, he is suddenly stabbed in the back by a stranger's dagger. As he dies, the poet pleads with his assassin not to reveal his secret:
If my life was a well-known game,
My death ought to remain a mystery.
This is how I long to die.
These mysterious lines of a meaninglessness and uncertainty in life, express the shattered psyche of the troubled souls of individuals in a shattered Arab society. Yet, Haddad can neither account for such things, nor answer the questions that plague him. Contemplating such chaos, he describes the diffusion of his dream into a cloud of confusion and fear. Everything takes on a misty, ethereal, transitory and nebulous quality. Even his dream is arrested, as is the Arab man who clings to it. In "Delirium ," he writes:
I am neither asleep nor awake,
Yet the enchanted dream dazzles me.
The same dream interrupts my every waking and every sleep
A group of angels leads me.
Do not open your eyes and do not close them,
Do not sleep and do not awake.
Thus, the world is chaotic, and relations, reality and the people who inhabit it are formless. All is fragmented and beyond the hope of reconstruction. Qassim Haddad's poetry reflects this complexity and formlessness; reading his work is challenging. The reader is continuously surprised by Haddad's diction and tone, and the effectiveness of his language to penetrate to the soul, leaving the audience exhausted and drained. His verses call forth the horrors of disconnection, void and suffocation. In his poem "There," he writes:
Freedom is distant, remote, desirable.
Life is thin like a blade, sharp like lightning,
Towering like the looming of gods.
Qassim Haddad established himself as the leading poet in the Arabian Gulf immediately after the 1970 publication of his first poetry collection, entitled Al-Bishara (The Good Omen). He has made a significant contribution to Arabic poetic modernism, a movement embodying change and experimentation in the Arab literary world. His verses plead for harmony and seek meaning in the world around him, which seems void and empty. Yet although he writes of terrified souls, his will and determination never falter. A revolutionary, he emerges from beneath the collapsing world strong of will, sharp of vision and with no regret, as he believes that the old world must be destroyed to make way for a new and better one. Haddad's mission as a poet is to project this vision into the future; only a deluge and a new beginning can relieve the present misery. He never resigns nor surrenders: he is a fighter in word and deed.
Qassim Haddad was born in Bahrain in 1948 into a shi'ite Muslim family. He is a self-made man. Obsessed with the ideas of freedom and social and political justice, Haddad has paid a high price for his rebelliousness. He was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for five years for his political beliefs and activities for social and political change. He left prison a stronger man and more progressive poet than before, and continued to call for revolution. Indeed, shortly after he left prison he contributed to the founding of the Association of Writers in Bahrain; became the editor in chief of Kalimat, a leading literary journal; held a position in the Directorate of Culture and Art at the Ministry of Information; and was elected president of the Bahraini Writers Association.
Qassim Haddad is a prolific writer with more than 18 works of poetry and poetic prose to his credit. His collected works, published in two volumes in 1997, contains all of his work to that point.
In 1996 Qassim Haddad re-wrote the tale of Majnun Layla (Layla's Mad Lover), a classical romantic Arabic legend of a platonic love affair between the poet Qays Bin al-Mullawwah and his beloved Layla. The original legend--believed to be set in the seventh century, during the Ummayyed period--is well established in the literature. It centers around the madman of Bani 'Amir, a poet from Najd who loves a girl named Layla and is raised with her until she reaches young adulthood. When they are separated by her father, the young man goes mad and begins roaming the wilderness chanting poetry, living with animals in the desert and subsisting on whatever he can find to eat. Until his death he continues composing platonic love poems full of agony and emotion. Qays' poems about Layla established a new genre in Arabic literature, known as the school of chaste love. The legend has stood for centuries as a symbol for idealized love and a purity.
In recreating the legend, Haddad questions the original tone and changes its nature, altering the symbolism. He slyly rewrites the tale in the verbal style of the original poet, Qays, capturing the spirit of that time and place, but adding erotic and sensuous verses and images. In Haddad's version, neither Qays nor Layla is innocent. Not content to flirt, the couple engage in passionate encounters. In one of Haddad's newly created scenes, Qays comes at night to Layla's family tent, pretending to borrow butter. While Layla's father and family are busy with guests inside the tent, outside the tent butter flows between Layla's young naked breasts.
Qays' caresses culminate in an erotic sexual encounter. By rewriting the well-known story, Haddad opens a window of doubt into our past, provoking us to re-examine our received traditions.
Throughout his work, Qassim Haddad continues to address the psychological and spiritual discontent in the Arab world, expressing a dissatisfaction and bitterness of Arab intellectuals toward their governments. For Haddad, this discontent at times escalates to despair. Feeling that there is no way to remedy the situation, "All is in vain" he writes. Many other leading Arab poets infrequently share this view, Adonis writes "only madness remains," Khalil Hawai--"the light is dead," Badr Shakir al-Sayyab--"black fields have no water," Nizar Qabbani--"what use are a people who cannot speak," Abdul Wahhab al-Bayyati--"we are the generations of meaningless death," and Yusuf Al-Khal--"it is madness."
As the Arab national and cultural unity collapse, Haddad maintains an existentialist tone in his poetry and speaks with anxiety of the absurdity and distortion in the modern world. He expresses the fear and consumption felt by the oppressed Arab man in a collapsed society with frightening phrases and images: "The dead ask the dead for direction" and "Death is slow and dragged by mules." Women are portrayed as "impregnated with tyrannical genes in order to give the nation clones of their tyranny." Such hallucinatory phrases seem to indicate madness on the part of Haddad, but only poetry had saved his sanity and prevented his suicide.
Haddad's difficult poetic text Al-Jawashin (The Shields,1989), co-written with Amin Saleh, is a fine expression of the insanity in the world surrounding us. It speaks of the "crazed" world with a voice which comprehends but rejects such absurdity. In "We tell the meaningless tale," there is a beginning and a revolution:
"You are ignorant. You do not understand."
"Okay. I do not understand. I do not understand what you understand. But at least I did something. I spat on one of their faces."
"And what did it bring you? He slapped you on the face and left you on the floor."
"Fine. But when I looked in his eyes, I saw fear. He was afraid of me.
Nobody noticed. He himself thought he was not afraid. I am the only one who saw it. And that is enough for me to feel a little proud."
Beyond doubt, much of Haddad's poetry is very disturbing. In "Horses," wicked women are seduced by horses and give birth to tyrannical fighters. In "Private Party," he writes about dead prisoners of war haunting him, waiting to pick the mystical mint from his body. They surround his limbs as they prepare him for slaughter. Haddad's poetry accurately reflects the spirit of our age, an age rife with fear, oppression and darkness. He echoes the irregular pulse of life, but he transforms his words into a steady rhythm of rejection. He is deeply dissatified with the present condition of the Arabs and their place in history. Qassim Haddad's powerful verses meant to infuse the reader with determination. His vision provides us with provocation and enlightment and above all it inspires us to seek a new beginning and a new life. Haddad's war against tyranny and corruption and his calls for the creation of a new Arab world shall not go unheard.
- seleted poems of Qassim Haddad are published in Banipal no 3.
See also Qassim Haddad ,s extensive poetry website Jeaht al-shear in English, Arabic and other languages, at www.jehat.com.
- Banipal no 17, Summer 2003
|Bassam K. Frangieh|
is Professor of Arabic at Yale University, USA, and au thor of several books, including Alien atien and fhr Palestinian Novel (Arabic). He has translated leading Arab Poets and novelists into English