Posted by: ktzefr | August 29, 2012

Poetry and Politics

“I may be clapping my hands, but I don’t

belong to a crowd of clappers…”



Some years back I was reading a collection of Ernesto Cardenal’s poetry on my lunch break when a friend walked by, saw the book I was holding, and shook her head.  “Why do you read those old leftists?” she asked.  She wondered how I could enjoy their poetry if I didn’t support their politics.  I hadn’t given this much thought.  For me poetry is a path to the human heart and I enjoy the unique views possible from that vantage point. 

Though I didn’t share his political views, I understood and respected Cardenal’s love for his homeland (Nicaragua), its people, culture, and landscape.  I didn’t experience the “warm, sweet, green odor of Central America” for a number of years after first reading his poetry, but those images fill my own memories now “…the white houses with red-tiled roofs and wide sunny eaves…flood waters rushing through the jungle…the howls of monkeys…the river turned leaf-green…the sudden flop of an iguana into the water…raindrops on the tin roofs…a Caribbean song.”

I’d had a similar conversation at another time about another poet — Pablo Neruda.  I’ve read and re-read some of Neruda’s poems a zillion times for a couple of reasons — I enjoy the challenge and I love the way the poet’s words dance on the page.  Pretty images spring from simple objects, such as a book (“Book,/beautiful/book,/miniscule forest,/leaf/after leaf…”) or a watch (“In the night, in your hand/my watch glowed/like a firefly./ …and minutes fell/like leaves,/fibers of broken time,/like black feathers.”)  I look forward to climbing “the ladder of the earth” to Macchu Picchu some day and will have to give Neruda credit for having first introduced me to this place he calls “Mother of stone, spume of the condors./High reef of the human dawn.”

A few lesser known poets, from Israel to China, whose words can bring hope and break hearts…

from “Jerusalem” by Yehuda Amichai (Israel) (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

“On a roof in the Old City/laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight:/the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,/the towel of a man who is my enemy,/to wipe off the sweat of his brow…We have put up many flags,/they have put up many flags. / To make us think that they’re happy./ To make them think that we’re happy.”

from “The Wall” by Tania Diaz Castro (Cuba) (translated by Pablo Medina and Carolina Hospital)

“the wall is high…it has cracks where orderly ants live/they are not alone/the wall is several kilometers high/it almost touches the north star…I was born under a good star they say/that is why now my star/has just struck this very high wall”

from “A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War” by Muneer Niazi (Pakistan) (translated by Daud Kamal)

“Sometimes/In the tangled boughs/Of the jasmine tree/And sometimes/On the green emerald floor/A nightingale sings”

from “A Sailor’s Memoirs” by Muhammad al-Fayiz (Kuwait) (translated by Issa Boullata and Naomi Shihab Nye)

“I don’t believe in a sun/That illuminates caves/While my home remains steeped/In total darkness./ I don’t believe in a land/Where thorns and cares/Are my share of its yield/While the harvest belongs to others.”

from “The Prison Cell” by Mahmud Darwish (Palestine) (translated by Ben Bennani)

“It is possible at least sometimes…/To ride a horse/Inside a prison cell/And run away…/ It is possible for prison walls/To disappear,/For the cell to become a distant land/Without frontiers…”

from “The Orphan” by Muhammad al-Maghut (Syria) (translated by May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye)

“From now on you will not find me/at ports or among trains/but in public libraries/sleeping head down on the maps of the world/as the orphan sleeps on pavement/where my lips will touch more than one river/and my tears stream from continent/to continent.”

from “Wildpeace” by Yehuda Amichai (Israel) (translated by Chana Bloch)

“Not that of a cease-fire,/let alone the vision of the wolf and the lamb,/but rather/as in the heart after a great excitement…/ I want it to come like wildflowers,/suddenly, because the field/needs it: wildpeace.”

from “A Headstrong Boy” by Gu Cheng (China) (translated by Donald Finkel)

“I want to draw a future I’ve never seen –/nor ever can — though I’m sure she’ll be beautiful./…I want to paint out every sorrow,/to cover the world with colored windows,/let all the eyes accustomed to darkness/ be accustomed to light.”



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