FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poet of the Week from Libya: Khaled Mattawa or The Sad Truth of the matter

So here's the sad truth of the matter: it's no easy task to find a great African poet each week for this blog. Well, that's not exactly precise.    Google has made it plenty easy to a great African poet, but it is a task of African proportions to find the author's actual poems.  Now some of this may be due to copyright restrictions but usually for most american/british/anywhere else poets, you can at least find a smattering of samples.  I am all for financially supporting great poets...BUT if all I can find are bios saying what a great poet you are without evaluating one my own...well yeah, it makes it difficult.  And by featuring a great poet's writing, this will expose him/her to others who may one day buy their work.  
    ANYWAY, but this is all no longer a problem as I finally ordered and received 
The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry: Fourth Edition (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) [Paperback]

    So this will be the last poet I feature for a long while that doesn't come from the anthology.  Below you will find an excerpt of Khaled Mattawa, a Libyan poet with a gift for crafting descriptions that you can close your eyes and picture:

"...while the sea and sky ache to become
a moment to peel itself like skin off fruit, and let us in
on its sweetness as we wait,.."

"Khaled Mattawa was born in Libya but has lived in the United States most of his adult life. He stays in touch with the Libyan literary scene and is revered there. His newest book, Amorisco,is due next month from Ausable Press, and one of its long poems, “East of Carthage: An Idyll,” is set at another ruined Roman city along the Libyan coast, Sabratha."

I also wrote a paper on the recent Libyan revolution: A Coalition to What End.

Look here, Marcus Aurelius, we’ve come to see
your temple, deluded the guards, crawled through a hole
in the fence. Why your descendent, my guide and friend
has opted for secrecy, I don’t know. But I do know
what to call the Africans, passport-less, yellow-eyed
who will ride the boat before me for Naples, they hope.
Here the sea curls its granite lip at them and flings a winter
storm like a cough, or the seadog drops them at Hannibal’s
shores, where they’ll stand stupefied like his elephants.
What dimension of time will they cross as the Hours loop
tight plastic ropes round their ankles and wrists?
What siren song will the trucks shipping them back
to Ouagadougou drone into their ears? I look at them
loitering, waiting for the second act of their darkness
to fall. I look at the sky shake her dicey fists.
One can be thankful, I suppose, for not being one of them,
and wrap the fabric of that thought around oneself
to keep the cold wind at bay. But what world is this
that makes our lives sufficient even as the horizon’s rope
is about to snap, while the sea and sky ache to become
a moment to peel itself like skin off fruit, and let us in
on its sweetness as we wait, smoking or fondling provisions,
listening to the engine’s invocational purr. In an hour
that will dawn and dusk at once, one that will stretch
into days strung like beads on the horizon’s throat,
they will ride their tormented ship as the dog star
begins to float on the water, so bright and still,
you’d want to scoop it out in the palm of your hand.

Simple questions
Are these birds or caravans
swimming through the air?
Neither the blueness nor those seated on beds in warm rooms will say.
Are these houses in a mirage or Bedouins
fleeing from ancient winds?
The sand and foxes alert for centuries will follow their trails.
Are these shadows of a city or a quavering flute?
A scene and visions emerge from its darkness.

FUUO Past Poets of the Week and Other Links:

Some of my favorite poetry books:

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