Monday, February 23, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Victims of a Map

Title: Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry
Authors: Adonis, Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim
via Amazon
Poetry is an ancient and revered art form in the Arab world.  Verse consistently outsells prose many times over.   Adonis, Darwish and al-Qasim are three of the most prominent modern practitioners.  Darwish and al-Qasim, both now deceased, were Palestinian.  Adonis is Syrian.  The lives, careers and poetry of all three were shaped profoundly by the political turmoil of the region, thus this collection's wonderful title: Victims of a Map.  The book contains 45 poems in all, 15 from each writer.  Each is printed in both Arabic and English, some for the first time in either language.

I don't know if I'm a poetry person.  I enjoy it.  I admire it.  But I don't know if I'll ever be one to happily curl up with a book of verse for hours on end.  I've tried: Byron, Shakespeare, Frost, haiku, etc.  It's lovely a little bit at a time, like a literary snack.  But as an entree?  I just don't think it's me.

The work here is enjoyable, and certainly quick.  Few of the poems are long.  "How I Became an Article" by al-Qasim is only two lines:

They killed me once
Then wore my face many times

The longest piece is Adonis's "The Desert (The Diary of Beirut Under Siege, 1982)" with 35 stanzas.

The imagery of the poems is beautiful and disturbing.  I'm sure I'm missing a great deal without being able to experience the text in the original language but so it goes.  Of the three, I enjoyed al-Qasim's style the best: short, economic and potent.

24 comments:

  1. My daughter is majoring in Arabic in college. She has a few books of Arabic poetry but not this one. It's a very ancient part of the world.

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    1. My wife studied Arabic in college, which is the only reason I can claim to know anything about it. It's also why we happen to have such books lying around the house.

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  2. I adore poetry and love to read all types. This sounds like a powerful collect.

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    1. Give it a shot! Only 165 pages, just half of them in English. Easily read in one sitting.

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  3. I enjoy reading and writing haiku. I enjoy the parameters of the structure.
    Usually write out a haiku then see what I need to change or strengthen.
    Plus I write with always a surprise at the end, the very best part.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Haiku exemplifies the best of what I like about good poetry: minimalism. Haiku, like couplets in English and the forms of the Arab tradition, too, arose out of poetry contests, each participant trying to outdo his opponent. The ideal was to come up with a haiku to which there could be no response, thus the form as we know it today.

      My favorite rock lyric is a minimalist couplet of sorts from a Led Zeppelin song:

      "Been dazed and confused for so long it's not true,
      Wanted a woman, never bargained for you."

      There's a rich story embedded in those two lines. You don't even need the rest of the song.

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    2. My wife is more attuned to poetry than I and is more aware of song lyrics, too. Perhaps her Lebanese heritage has something to do with that.

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  4. I'm not for lots of poetry all at once. I think the best way I have of stating what that's like is it's like putting all the spices on something. All of them.

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    1. Every once in a while, I find one I really like. None of these quite grabbed me, though.

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  5. Whenever I search for reading material, I never look for poetry though I have been given books along the way. Remarkably, I love them, so I can't figure out why I would gravitate to the subject.

    This book sounds interesting; doing a search for it right now. Thanks!

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    1. Happy to offer the suggestion. What other poetry books have you enjoyed?

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  6. I know there are middle grade/young adults being written completely in verse...there's a whole underground movement for more books like that. It's not really my thing, but I did get my start writing poetry...without my cheesy attempts at poetry, I might not have built the confidence I needed to pursue a writing career later.

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    1. I'm okay with stories written in verse, especially Shakespeare.

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  7. Arabic poetry sounds wonderful! I'm not a huge fan of poetry but I appreciate the beauty and symbolism. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I like reading poetry and Shelley is one of my favourites but I could not read a whole book of it in one setting. This sounds like quite the challenge but onethat is excellent

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    1. No, not challenging. The poems are mostly very short, as is the book. Just didn't grab me the way I might want it to.

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  9. I used to read a lot of poetry. I still do, just not as much. I'd love to read this.

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    1. If you do, please let me know what you think.

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  10. I like to read poetry, but I usually read it in bits. I read some poems one day and then it might be a while before I read another batch. I usually need to let the poems sit and it gives me time to think about them. This sounds like a collection of powerful poems. Thanks for sharing.
    ~Jess

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  11. I have a similare feeling toward poetry. I enjoy it, but only in small doses. This book of poems actually sounds like an interesting read. Unfortunately I find that a lot of poetry is despressing in large quantities, but again, that's why I take small doses.

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    1. The poems are good... though I won't pretend some of them aren't depressing.

      Actually, what you've described is how I kind of feel about short stories. Too many of them are about death.

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