Towards a poetical internationality

By Pr. Benaissa Bouhmala

Benaissa BouhmalaAristotle was right in praising poetry and philosophy and disgracing history as it only reproduces an existing knowledge in the consciousness.
There is no art so close to man’s changes, feelings and his deep soul’s up raisings as poetry. It is also close to his sadness, suffering wins and failures, and so to his search of perfectibility.
Humanity’s history has been under the attraction of two powers; evil, that is innate in man, and good: The power of violence, control and harm and the power of peacefulness, cohabitation and love. Therefore, the true active poetry has never missed the difficult and dramatic ages of our history that is full of discrimination, individualism and destruction, to support the values of justice, cooperation and beauty.
Our age stands as one of the most difficult and dramatic eras, that I why stopping at some poetical experiences; Arab, Asian, African, American and European, can help us measure the extent of poetry’s taking of responsibility to reveal every hater that stamps our actual world.
If Aristotle was right, Plato had the same attitude when closing the borders of his republic, in concordance with his utopia, in front of poets in particular, and opening these same doors for politicians, philosophers, artists, fighters, artisans and agriculturalists. As he knew that, they will perturb its smooth mood and start looking for innovation, beauty and difference for they were meant to do so by nature. 
However, if Plato succeeded in shutting the doors of his Republic in front of the undesirable non-convenient civilians, that he conceived with all his extraordinary imagination, no one within the circle of politicians, militaries, capitalists and other profit makers could face poetry’s faith.  In fact, its straightforward attitude in managing to introduce itself into their empires and prevent them from narrowing its essence protected its foundations. It could also challenge the settled rules that shape social relationships; the power of the strong on the weak, the rich on the poor, which obey to pragmatic rules. These same rules are contrary to the aim of man in this world, he that was created bring justice and honour.
If we could give a title for history, the appropriate one would be injustice both at the moral and material level. Then it subtitles would be hunger, disease, oppression, discrimination and violence. The latter one culminates during war, could it be colonial, civil, regional, worldwide, which broke out sometimes because of some narrow-minded people. It cost millions of innocent lives and erased cities and counties to satisfy some political, military and economic lobbies, or in the name of racial superiority and perfectibility.
Does it concern victims of hunger, oppression or war; there are always poets who take the challenge, decrypt pain and suffering and attack with all their strength the destruction machine. They get with the oppressed and revolt against the oppressor, reminding him that man is too noble to obey to his instinct wild side.
Every era is full of misses and handicaps that affect human reason that demands many historical cycles to be accessed at the expense of wilderness and rusticity. However, following the crazy speed by which thing develop actually, both the scientific, social and cultural levels, our era is to be considered as one of the most devastator both morally and physically to man. As the era of prophecy has gone, or as described by Holderlin, the era of sacristy, that was over as the first clue got the crucifer, the destiny of poets is to be present and awake in the heat of this tremendous world.

Isn’t poetry a universal art as said Hegel? We can talk about national novels, Russian, French or Colombian. As we can talk about nationalistic ones; Arab, Negro, Slavian or Anglo-Saxon. We even talk about social category, as novels are a product of a given social classes; Proletariat, Bourgeoisie and Aristocracy. Didn’t the Hungarian visionary George Lukas consider novel as a bourgeoisie epopee? In other words, he considers novel as a descriptive tool produced by some social class and never evaluated until a short time ago. However, poetry is old and has roots in the common human subconscious, and first appeared when man realised his non-significance in front of the magnificence of the universe, his weakness and fragility.
If the lobbies of politicians, military and capitalists could touch poets or prevent them from following the evolution of society, the later ones had to pay for the sins of society by their welfare, peacefulness, material stability and in extreme cases by their lives. However, this is in concordance with the spirit of sacrifice that poets accept the risks of challenging evil powers, and criticizing Man.
The list of modern poets that were victims of dishonour, violence and even assassination, if not invited to suicide, is too long for these pages. As an example, the Russian poet Boris Pasternak has been force to be silent under Stalin’s dictatorship. Exile or taking of nationality has been imposed on the Turkish pro socialist poet Nadim Hikmat, the Iraqians, Saadi Yousouf and Abdelouahab Bayati. Also, Sudan poet Mohamed Fitouri, Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, Russian David Bourliouk, Spanish Rafael Alberti, Chilean Pablo Neruda, South African Breiten Breintenbach, Chinese poets Byee Dao, Duo Duo and Yang Lin.  Prison also was imposed on the Russian Osep Mandelstam, Syrian Faraj Beirkader and even death through hunger and extreme cold in Siberia for the futurist Russian poets Vilimir Khlebnekov –Arthur Rambo of Russia-, and his compatriot Andrei Goumelik. However, a death penalty by the Bolsheviks in the heart of the Russian civil war is the same penalty on the Spanish Federico Garcia Lorca, assassinated by fascist groups during the Spanish civil war. We can even mention those who chose to suicide as the Russian Vladimir Maikovski, mislead by the Russian revolution and its becoming an stagnant bureaucratic system, and the Lebanese Khalil Hawi who committed suicide as a form of protest against the Israeli invasion in 1982, and so achieved eternal fame as a man and an artist.

Many ethnicities and people are victims of the ethnic, economic and cultural centralization of the West, and so discrimination for matters of colour, religion, history and culture as a whole.
Black Africa has most suffered of racial discrimination and lead to auto-destruction, by emptying the continent of its human and natural resources, as described by the Senegalian poet Leopold Sedar Sanghor, at the time student in Paris, who suffered discrimination even if millions of his fellows were freeing France from Nazi occupation. In addition, the Sudani poet Muhi Eddine Faris recorded the sufferance of Lucy, an Afro-American student banned from Alabama University, in the heart of McCarthyism that left behind white enlightened artists and even common people, and naturally the Afro-American community, which is the first victim of the American Dream:
Not because you’re as black as me,
Your colour is as my colour,
Your wound is as my wound,
Your sadness is as my sadness
But because you are human.

Nevertheless, Gaitanis, Eskimo, Indians and native Australians are also in the same victimized category of people victims of white supposed superiority, and assumed perfectibility. Palestinian poet, Samih Al Kassem chose to mix the Indian sufferance in North America and the Palestinian tragedy in his poem about the Zouni tribe awaiting the sacred bird which means freedom from the white’s violence and persecution, as an equivalent of the Palestinian awaiting for his land, freedom and regain his identity.
On the other hand, the Iraqian poet Hamid Said discusses the sufferance of another people, the Gaitanis, whom their only sin is to consider the whole earth as their country and so became the target of discrimination. Through the hands of Marissa, the Gaitanis girl assassinated by the Spanish fascist troops, the poets describes the sufferance of the Gaitanis people as a whole, a people living in disgrace and permanent fear of the other’s hater but with a strong hope in human compassion.

The sea is tired but Marissa is not
She gets out of the kingdom of water that she honoured
With all fishes and lemon
And Marissa is a shining morning
  -Marissa who is never tired-

War is the most violent aspect of man’s instinct of harming his enemy, taking his dignity, dismissing his right to live, which is the most important one. Coming back to Gaitanis tragedy in Spain, the civil war between the Frankists and republicans as a fight for the present and future of the country that did involve Arabs, black Africans and Gaitanis considered as shaking Spain’s perfectibility and racial unity. This war was a laboratory for great literary movements for most socialist that tried to live near to the discourses of war and hater. There were writers as the French André Malraux and the American Ernest Hemingway, and poets as the English Weston Oden, the Chilean Pablo Neruda and his offensive poem “Spain In The Heart”, and the Peruvian Cesar Vallejo that could but record this tragedy:

Malaga, walking on your feet,
Leaving inside evil,
And Cowardice,
And distorted history, silent,
An unimaginable fight,
The fight of weapons, the fight of weak spirits,
And weak bodies.
  -Spain, take this sacrifice away from me-

This war meant the end of the cosmopolitan dream of Spain, defended by Federico Garcia Lorca, by falling the same as Toledo, and why not Babylon, that fond its richness in its racial diversity, colours and languages. However, the poets death means his imaginary elevation to a universal rank as did Arab poets. It is no strange that times and spaces got mixed for the Iraqian Abdelouahab El Bayati, so that Spain became Iraq and Granada became Baghdad:

Lorca is dying, he die,
Assassinated in the night by the fascists on the Euphrates,
Sliced his body and took off his eyes,
Lorca with no hands,
Telling his sufferance to the Phoenix,
To the light, sand and Air,
And water.
  -“Dying In Granada”-

Another war, not less savage than the previous one, is the Bosnian conflict, that broke out after the collapse of Yugoslavia to show an enormous degree of cultural, religious and racial hater. It transformed yesterday’s Bosnian brothers, Croatians, Serbians and Muslims into enemies in permanent devastator conflict. Sarajevo, that used to be a heaven of welfare and cohabitation, became a battle scene that resumes the social and spiritual bankruptcy portrayed by the Bosnian poet Izzet Sarvech to ease his suffering and describe all the real chaos that mutual violence does cause:

Before the war,
I promised a poem for you Sarajevo,
The day I saw you,
In front of cameras, the city cries its chaos,
You wrote it by yourself,
I just have to sign it
   -A Poem To Borassia Sojevetch-

Wars can also be for the sake of liberty and freedom. If we consider the Arab World, we have to mention the French colonization in Algeria, with all the sacrifice that gave the Algerian people to regain its independence after more than one hundred and thirty years of colonization amplified by the one million martyrs and the famous Jamila Bouherd, Jeanne D’Arc of Algeria. Never did a nationalist liberator movement attract so much compassion and support as did the Algerian crisis poems of the Iraqian Mohammed Mehdi Jawahiri, the Syrian Suleiman Al Issa, the Egyptian Ahmed Abdel Moûti Hijazi and the revolutionist Algerian Mufdi Zakaria. Nevertheless, the Palestinian problem is with no doubt the centre of interest of many Arabic poetic experiences. Mahmood Darwish, the famous Palestinian poet is always looking forward the time Jerusalem should regain its independence, and its role as capital of cohabitation, peace and goodwill:

In Jerusalem I sing in the old wall,
I walk from an era to another with no memory,
That guides me, since prophets share
Jerusalem’s history… elevate to the ski
And come back less sad because love and peace
Are sacred and are coming to the city.
   -In Jerusalem-

when he poet says an era with no memory he means what the past and present have of every kind of hater, doubt and mutual violence that destroy Palestinian cities and villages, and what is also described by the Chinese poet Bei Dao when referring to Ram Allah that embodies the whole tragedy of second Intifada :

In Ram Allah,
Grains dispersed on the whole evening,
Death flowers outside my window,
Resisting, the tree takes the shape of,
A violent hurricane.
   -Ram Allah-

We can imagine what should happen in this special spiritual land, if the grand sons of Abraham get enough wisdom from the olive tree, the symbolic Palestinian tree, first from its historical bienfaisance. That what points at the French poet Serge Pey, when he offers a poem to his Arab fellows aiming to remind them that this tree is the sign of unity of both peoples. He offered his poem to Palestinian Mahmood Darwish, Syrian Adonis and Moroccan Abdellatif Laâbi, and the Israeli Moshe Ben Seoul who’s a member of the Israeli movement “Peace Now”:

Olive trees want olive trees to wear peace,
The gun is not an olive tree,
Sometimes human beings can be human,
Sometimes they cannot,
But no olive tree can be a soldier.
  -A Country For Olive Trees-

Wars are full of every kind of weapons; Nuclear, Bactrian, hydrogencal and Chemical. Man has experienced the danger of such weapons during the two World Wars and realized the Threat to his life. The World War I was not a simple journey in comparison with the second one, which was apocalyptic by the use of nuclear weapons, as portrayed by T.S. Elliot who considered it as the conclusion of human existence.

Now died who was living,
We who were living, die,
With little patience.
        -The Waste Land-

What can we say about Hiroshima nuclear bombing? Was not Fokaï, the secretary of the Anglican mission at Hiroshima horrified by the scene that reminded him of what had already John seen in the Seven Sins? That is what tried to discuss the Iraqi Badr Shaker Assayâb in one of his masterpieces:

The iron bird is still flying in the skies,
And in the ocean it sleeps,
In the eyes of your orphan child, where is no singing.
  -What Fokaï saw-   
We have also to remember Alan Ginsberg’s poem “Shout”, which is an attack on America’s nuclear strategy and its dream of perpetual superiority to those jealous of The American Dream and Welfare. This poem was a real poetical and cultural poem, to the point it became a bible for those, workers, intellectuals and humanists who say no to American’s influence and interference all over the world.
We cannot prevent nuclear catastrophes, as even in times of peace, there may happened an accident in a central that would affect the lives of civilians all around as what happened in Chernobyl, which is an evidence of the permanent danger. Serge Pey does also refer to this tragedy and draws a black portrait for a future stamped by air and water pollution

According to their sense of solidarity, poets do always try to help the weakest who suffers from persecution and who undergoes unjustified violence. Serge Pey chose to go by himself to Mexico to support Chiapas tribes, in their demand to consider their identity and rights. With the same spirit, the Chinese Bee Dao and the South African Breiten Breintenbach went by themselves, amongst a delegation of the World Writers Parliament to the Arab occupied territories in Palestine to support a people who claim their freedom. Also, Mahmood Darwish red poems of support and compassion in front of what is left of Sarajevo’s National Library.
Humanity went through difficult times. However, we cannot predict what is coming by, as in the midst of so accelerated Globalisation, we seem to go through an era in which the slogans of welfare become just legends. If we consider that most part of nowadays world suffer from poverty and development of new phenomena proper to our era Aids disease, results of Ozone gap, human cloning.  We have also consider the real power of lobbies, Trusts and what they vehicle of all kinds of nonsense mediatic and political discourses through their powerful media. The Belgium poet German Droogenbroodt in his last poem Counter Light treated all this, in a subtile manner.                   
The need of poetry in nowadays world is more than urgent; it is primordial in the sense that this world will know more and more deterioration. If we take apart the sense of internationality, out of its ideological and cultural context, we will understand that the destiny of modern poets, without considering their cultural and linguistic difference, is to come and together. In fact, they should work with green parties and other counter-globalisation movements in order to overcome the savageness of the world, or rather, this small universal village, as Sodom and Gomorra in old times departing from the loss of humanity. 

  This study was presented during the meeting “Poetry & Humanity” part of Kuala Lumpur’s 10th  World Poetry Reading by Dewan Behasa Dan Pustaka in Malaysia, 16th to 22nd August, 2004.