Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two Interviews: Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara

Here are links to two interviews of Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara, two Arab American poets whose work in 2008 has brought a new visibility to Arab American poetry.
Fady's interview is on the Poetry Foundation blog. Here's one snippet:
QUESTION: I heard the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott say, when asked about great American poets, something to the effect that an imperial power can't produce great art. Any response to that, and can an oppressed country or people produce great[er] poetry? And perhaps a related question, do you, as the son of Palestinian refugees, feel a responsibility to write political poetry? Do people expect you to be a Palestinian and political poet rather than just a poet who is Palestinian and political? Do you like that or mind that? Could you say something about the role of poetry in Palestinian culture/society as opposed to its role in the U.S.? In 10 words or less? (Kidding!) (You can have 20…)

FADY JOUDAH: In his Mural (2000), his book-long poem, Darwish says: “There’s no nation smaller than its poem.” And “The earth is a festival of losers, and we’re among them.” Something here echoes what Walcott said, perhaps: there is only poetry of defeat, no poetry (at least not one that’s worth it) of victory, at least in the contemporary world, beyond the archaic anthropologic heroism of Greeks and Trojans, tribes and Kings.

I don’t know what “political” poetry is, unless it is “bad” poetry, propagandist or apologist for injustice. Other than that, it is not “political,” rather it is dignified, humanizing. I don’t feel a “responsibility” to write political poems, I feel a compulsion to address that line where the universal is the personal and the personal, the universal. Being Palestinian almost becomes another’s question of me, and certainly not mine of myself. That question is in many ways one of power, of rewriting “the other.” Thus, what is called “political” poetry, for me, is to humanize the other without stripping them from the right to speak their narrative, or imposing on them my narcissistic projections as righteous poet.

Hayan's is with Iconia here. And a snippet:

MW: There is a long, deep tradition of Arab poetry, much of it religious. To what extent does the younger generation of Arab American poets see itself as heir to that longer tradition, rather than innovating something wholly new?

HC: There are some expressions of what might be termed “religious” poetry among Arab American poets, but I’m not sure how closely it resembles the religious tradition you’re referring to. Someone with a skilled ear, however, will hear some of the rhythms of Islamic poetry in the poems of Arab American poets. Or, there another person might see semblances in the ways that a poet celebrates this or that.

As far being “heirs” to a longer tradition, my guess is that most poets have a sense of both — being heirs, and being innovators. We have what came before us, as guides, as models, even as ways of thinking and creating to reject or turn our backs on; but whatever we do as poets, we always have those traditions to be influenced by. At the same time, we are always living in a “new” moment, and we can’t but help, I think, to create new ways of seeing the world, and expressing ourselves — maybe not “wholly new” but definitely not the same old, same old.

1 comment:

So It Shall Be Written said...

Philip- Thanks for this posting. I have been doing a slow read through Joudah's "Earth in the Attic." What a fantastic collection of poems. His spare and simple style is awesome. I plan to do a review on my post soon. As always, thanks for good literary and musical musings! Peace, J. Ross