Country Poetry Meme

I don’t believe in tagging or being tagged for memes, but I’m not opposed to a self-tag every once in a while! This comes from Gautami’s blog.

The Rules:
Take a country whose name begins with the last letter of your surname. (a) Jane Doe would take Ecuador, for example, or Egypt. England (like the USA and Ireland) does not qualify. Wole Soyinka would take Angola, or Afghanistan. If you cannot find a country with that letter (and only then), move back a step. (b) Jane Doe would take Oman, in that case. As for Wole Soyinka, he would go for Kazakhstan, or Korea. And so on.

Here we go!

As my last name is O’Neil, Libya came to mind for some reason. Maybe you thought, “Jan, what about Latvia?” “What about Liechtenstein?” Sorry. We’re going with Libya.

1. Tell us about the capital city of the country you chose.

(From Wikipedia) Libya is a country in North Africa. Bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Libya lies between Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa by area, and the 17th largest in the world. The city of Tripoli is the capital.

2. How many inhabitants that country has?

Tripoli, the capital, is home to 1.7 million of Libya’s 5.7 million people.

3. Find and share with us a poem in English of not more than 20 lines from
that country. If it's longer; cut it to twenty lines or less.

I’ll admit, I was looking for Libyan poetry and I got paranoid the secret police (aka Homeland Security) was going to swoop in and take my laptop. It could still happen. *sigh* Damn the Patriot Act!

But to my great relief, I found this poet through Web Del Sol’s Web site.

Khaled Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya where he had his primary education. In 1979 he immigrated to the United States. He lived in the South for many years, finishing high school in Louisiana and earning bachelors degrees in political science and economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He went on to earn an MA in English and an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University where he taught creative writing and won an Academy of American Poets award. A professor of English and Creative Writing at California State University, Northridge, he has published poems in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, New England Review, Callaloo, Poetry East, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior
and The Pushcart Prize anthology. He was awarded the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University for 1995-96.

Screw the 20 lines—this is a great poem:


My lips came with a caravan of slaves
That belonged to the Grand Sanussi.
In Al-Jaghbub he freed them.
They still live in the poor section of Benghazi
Near the hospital where I was born.
They never meant to settle
In Tokara those Greeks
Whose eyebrows I wear
--then they smelled the wild sage
And declared my country their birthplace.
The Knights of St. John invaded Tripoli.
The residents of the city
Sought help from Istanbul. In 1531
The Turks brought along my nose.
My hair stretches back
To a concubine of Septimus Severus.
She made his breakfast,
Bore four of his sons.
Uqba took my city
In the name of God.
We sit by his grave
And I sing to you:
Sweet lashes, arrow-sharp,
Is that my face I see
Reflected in your eyes?

4. Tell us something you particularly like about the poem you have chosen:

The metaphors are a history of Mattawa’s birthplace. And I can relate to the idea of a people being displaced. It’s just a beautiful poem.

5. Add a line anywhere in the poem (beginning, middle or end), and clearly show which line is yours to avoid confusion and/or ambiguity.

I’m going to decline this part of the meme because I think it’s perfect as is. Besides, I wouldn’t want someone messing with one of my poems for a meme.

I have to say that this is probably the best meme I’ve done because it really stretched me to think about poetry, and it shines a bright light on how little I know about world literature and geography in general.

Tag yourselves and try this poetry meme.


Hello again!!!

What a great poem your meme unearthed ~ I think this is a good candidate for easing me back into the promptless Poetry Thursday this week...

This meme has taught us all a lot. I liked learning about Libya from yours. It is only tip of the iceberg and made me hunger for more.

The poem you share is perfect.

We should all thank rethabile for this.

You can leave a message on his blog if not already done. He is linking us all..:D
Khadijateri said…
This was really nice! - you can find other examples of Libyan poetry here:

Rethabile said…
Very nice poem, indeed. I learned a lot from everyone's offering, the different cities, poets. I'm doing Lithuania ("O" had only Oman, and I didn't find any poems on the net from Oman).

I don't think Khaled would have minded your adding a line and saying so loud and clear for the benefit of learning. But who knows, maybe he would have. Brilliant work and post, as always.

The sound of the poem's first two lines did me in. That's what poetry should sound like.
January said…
Rethabile, thanks for finding the meme. I hope more people try it because I did learn a lot, and it has prompted much dialogue on the subject of geography!

I'll come by to check out the other entries.
January said…
Khadijateri, thanks for stopping by and providing the link! I will definitely check it out.
January said…
Gautami, thanks for the suggestion. I'll stop by Rethabile blog next.
January said…
Claire! I'm so happy you're back to blogging. I've missed your wonderful words. Hope you've come back refreshed and rejuvinated.
AnnieElf said…
Beautiful and emotional poem. Bless Ret for starting this meme. We have found so much to share with each other.
split ends said…
January: I'm tagging myself for this for PT! Thanks for sharing.
I loved reading this poetic exploration of mixed heritage.

I did the meme too and like you couldn't bear to add a line to the poem I chose to share.

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