Monday, August 8, 2016

Two Poets Never Met

Alejandra Pizarnik and Samih Al-Qasim

I like to imagine certain writers meeting, the stranger, the more unlikely the pairing, the better. Surely an encounter between the late Jewish Argentinian poet, Alejandra Pizarnik, and the late Druze Israeli poet, “the Palestinian Lorca’, Samih Al-Qasim, would fit the bill. Indeed their visions as poets could hardly be more distinct: while Al-Qasim’s poetry is ever directed outward, toward others, born as it was of his life-long struggle for social justice in Israel and Palestine, Pizarnik’s is decidedly reclusive, reflexive, every bit the product of the ‘brawling’ inside her head. Her poems echo with loneliness, abandonment, despair:


your voice
in this inability to escape                                         
my gaze
things rid themselves of me
if it isn’t your voice
turn me into a boat on a river of stones
a rain isolated in my fevered silence
you undo my eyes
and I ask
you please
to speak to me


Someone goes into the silence and abandons me.
Now solitude is not alone.
You speak like the night.
You announce yourself like thirst.


The hour when the grass grows
in the memory of a horse.
The wind issues innocent speeches
in honor of the lilacs,
and someone enters into death
with open eyes,
like Alice in the land of the seen before.

I Am Forbidden To Look At The Grass

   A naked mannequin in the wreckage. They set fire to the store window and left you posing like a frozen angel. I’m not making this up: what I’m saying is an imitation of nature, a still life. I am speaking of myself, naturally.


                            For Octavio Paz

    And it's always the lilac garden on the other side of the river. If the soul should ask you if that is far from here, you should say, On the other side of the river, not this one, but the one over there.

By contrast, Al-Qasim’s poetry, while also personal, moves immediately outward, toward the lives, the conditions, of others, fusing his condition, his fate, with that of his people’s:

End of A Talk With A Jailer
From the narrow window of my small cell,
I see trees that are smiling at me
and rooftops crowded with my family.
And windows weeping and praying for me.
From the narrow window of my small cell—
I can see your big cell!


The day I’m killed
my killer will find
tickets on my pockets:
One to peace,
one to fields and the rain,
and one
to humanity’s conscience.

I beg you—please don’t waste them,
I beg you, you who kill me: Go. 

In his poetry there is also, and not surprisingly, a deep and tragic connection to place:

Sadder Than Water

Sadder than water,
in death’s wonder
you’ve distanced yourself from this land.
Sadder than water
and stronger by far than the wind,
longing for a moment to drowse,
alone. And crowded by millions
behind their darkened windows.

You distanced yourself from yourself.
So that you might remain
on the land.
You will remain.
(People were useless… the land was useless
but you’ll dwell on.)
And in the land there is nothing,
nothing but you…

There, now that I have set them talking—amidst the olive trees in Al-Qasim’s garden in Rama, in Pizarnik’s cluttered apartment in Buenos Aires—just pull up a chair and listen.

Recommended Reading:

Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972 by Alejandra Pizarnik, New Directions
Sadder Than Water: New & Selected Poems by Samih Al-Qasim, Ibis Edtions

Peter Adam Nash

1 comment:

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