Gitmo Poetry

Last week I listened to the Poetry Foundation's podcast of a new book called Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Marc Falkoff.

Most of the poems have been scrubbed and analyzed by U.S. attorneys and officials for terrorist messages hidden in the verse. But I was so moved by the podcast that I searched online for more information on the book, to be published by August 15 by the University of Iowa Press.

In addition to the Poetry Foundation's audio interview (podcast is on the homepage), you can listen the NPR story, or read about the new book at The Independent or Wall Street Journal.

Here's one of the poems from NPR's Web site:

Humiliated in the Shackles

When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
Bush, beware.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors'.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.
— Sami al Haj

Copyright © University of Iowa Press.


Becca said…
This is beautiful and frightening at the same time. Certainly this poet writes from the deepest of emotional places, and describes feelings common to all people - the longing for home and family.
Yet his clear hatred for us, "the oppressors" was frightening. It's an ideological fight we cannot win.

Thank you for sharing this poem, and the information about this project.
January said…
Thanks Becca. I just find it facinating that the first real conversations we hear from the detainees are in poems.

Reading the poem I posted, I'm not sure if this is the best example. But some of what I did hear on the audio posts were really touching and sad.
GreenishLady said…
Thank you for sharing this. It is a good thing to have a chance to witness the humanity and sensitivity of a detainee. I am amazed at the fact that they have succeeded in being published. Now I'll go and look up the articles you link to. Thanks.
I, too, am amazed that the powers that be allowed these to be published. I am sad and touched by this poet. I am also afraid of him. He (if he is indeed a terrorist) would be more likely to "ride on the back's of orphans" than any American soldier in Iraq, or any American, period.

That being said, let me add that I hate Bush and his entire cabinet, and his war.
January said…
Amen. Hope the war ends soon, and this administration can't end fast enough for me.
January said…
I keep coming back to the fact that in times of trouble and need, people come to poetry. Not to oversimplify the detainees' plight, or the troops serving this country, but their writings are part of the poetry of our time.

When we talk about political poetry, and poetry of war, I think it's interesting to look at the what's being written from the other side. What do are enemies think of us, and how does that expression translate into poetry, fiction, and nonfiction?

Our ancestors will look back on this period to consider all the literature of the time, so why shouldn't we do the same.
Exactly. It's like Carolyn Forche said, "The...human condition demands a poetry of witness. If I did not wish to make poetry of what I had seen, what is it I thought poetry was?"

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