The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Saturday

From "The Funeral Of New York"
By Adonis

New York is a woman
holding, according to history,
a rag called liberty with one hand
and strangling the earth with the other.

When you are starving,
thunder is the only answer.
When you are chained,
you yearn for havoc.

Let our turn be now
our book is on the rise
and it is not mere print
but a prophecy that grows and grows.

Let statues of liberty crumble.
Out of corpses now sprout nails
in the manner of flowers.
An eastern wind uproots tent and skyscrapers
with its wings.


This poem was written in 1971. There's a fuller translation here, though the language is not as hard-hitting as the excerpts above. Given its date of publication, the poem is obviously not about what it sounds like it's about, except for the ways in which it is. The narrator imagines searching lower Manhattan for Walt Whitman's ghost and furiously imagining "an eastern wind" uprooting skyscrapers.

I discovered Adonis (birth name: Ali Ahmed Said) via a New York Times article two years ago (note: I have just discovered that you can read the article without paying NYT fees here). Adonis is the son of Syrian farmers who grew up in a village without electricity; he now lives in Paris and was teaching in Berlin when the article was written. The Times said he was widely considered the Arab world's greatest living poet, yet I had never heard of him from the poetry journals I read, where the more politically straightforward Mahmoud Darwish for instance gets a lot more attention. He said he felt trapped between Fundamentalism and the silence of his Jewish intellectual friends, having fled Beirut in the face of Israeli bombing yet treated as a marked man by Muslims for having chosen exile.

"Experimental in style and prophetic in tone, Adonis's poetry combines the formal innovations of modernism with the mystical imagery of classical Arabic poetry," said the Times reporter. "He has evoked the anguish of exile, the spiritual desolation of the Arab world, the intoxicating experiences of madness and erotic bliss, the existential dance of self and the other. But what defines his work, above all, is the force of creative destruction, which burns through everything he writes. 'We will die if we do not create gods/We will die if we do not kill them,' he once wrote, echoing his favorite poet, Nietzsche."

Adonis said things in this interview which stuck with me, politically, personally, as someone who studied language for a long time. Poetry, he said, is "'a question that begets another question,'" which the reporter called "a deeply subversive stance in a region in which poets are often expected to take stands and provide answers." A critic of organized religion, a champion of secular democracy, Adonis noted, "'I am among those who seek the ills of the Arabs in their own history, not outside of it,'" and added, "'The Palestinian problem goes beyond politics. It is an ethical problem, and ethics is never on the side of power. Jews and Palestinians must live together, whether it's in two states or in a federation. Religion has ceased to be a culture and become a mythology, for Islam as well as Judaism. These are people who do not recognize, or reflect the other, in their language, people completely closed in on themselves. Everyone pretends that God told them his last words.'"

The poem below, in the context of the other, also makes me think of the Statue of Liberty:

The Face Of A Woman
By Adonis

I dwell in the face of a woman
who dwells in a wave
flung by the tide
to a shore that has lost its harbor
in its shells.
I live in the face of a woman
who murders me,
who desires to be
a dead beacon
in my blood sailing
to the very end of madness.


Since people are reporting their LJ ancestry: I am here courtesy divineway, whom I miss dreadfully -- I am glad she is happy in L.A. but I talked to her so much more when she was in New York, and it was so much easier to get to her! As for whom I recruited...I am sure I don't have anywhere near a complete list, as I used to give out codes on behalf of A/B fandom and rugbytackle liberally, but I know I gave codes to atanvarne_lj, beckyo, asynje, jennandanica, cybermum, mamadracula, ealgylden and various others.

bronzelionel pointed out this wonderful article about the Queen and a parrot that made my morning.

Also, having read Nicholas Kristof in the Times this morning, I would like to volunteer to take over Michael Eisner's job, and Disney can pay me a mere $1-2 million a year instead of $285 million. I'm sure I can mismanage the company just as well as he did, and think how much will be saved on the salary.

Comment from on my Smallville fic: "You are sick!! Clark and Lex don't go together Ew. But now Clark and Lana on the other hand." Hehehehe. I love being told I'm sick.

Gacked from undonne, who is also:

You are the Ring of Barahir
You are the Ring of Barahir. You are loyal, true,
and a good friend. You are known for your deeds
and not your beauty, but you are still very
beautifull. You make promisses and keep them,
and you are faithful to the end. You are in
general a wonderful person.
What Middle Earth Object are you?
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