Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: From Hip Hop To Palestine

by lizard

It’s rare for poetry to become pundit fodder, but when president Obama got a little cultural on the 11th of this month, a ridiculous controversy only the right could conjure emerged. Here is the performance (which is not the controversy)

No, what lit the controversy up were these rather bland rhymes Common penned about Bush:

“Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button/Killing over oil and grease/no weapons of destruction”

Really? If that little jab at Bush butt-hurts Republicans, then maybe Ted Nugent can cheer them up:

or check out this delightful redneck anti-Obama rap:

*

Meanwhile, outside the United States of Absurdity, poetry that challenges state power has real world consequences. For example, in Yemen, a poet had his tongue cut out because of what he wrote:

Elements of the opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) allegedly sliced off the tongue of the young poet Walid Mohamed Ahmed al-Ramisi on Wednesday in the capital city Sana’a.

Local sources said that attackers captured al-Ramisi in Taiz Street and took him to a house where they cut off his tongue.

This was apparently in response to his poems that were critical against the JMP. Al-Ramisi expressed his support for the unity of Yemen and constitutional legitimacy.

In Mexico, poet Javier Sicilia has abandoned writing poetry altogether after his 24 year old son became one of the 40,000 casualties of President Calderon’s war against the drug cartels.

After burying his son, Juan Francisco, 24, a university student who was found bound and shot along with six friends in the city of Cuernavaca, Mr. Sicilia stood before well-wishers and read his latest work, an ode to his son:

The world is not worthy of words

they have been suffocated from the inside

as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs …

the pain does not leave me

all that remains is a world

through the silence of the righteous,

only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

Then, Mr. Sicilia, one of the country’s most acclaimed poets, told those who had gathered that they had just heard the last poem he would ever write.

“Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore,” he explained later in an interview.

But that does not mean Mr. Sicilia has any intention of remaining quiet.

Since his unlikely tragedy, he has led two marches with the slogan “¡Hasta la madre!” — which roughly translates as “We have had it!” — and has issued a series of public denunciations, providing an exclamation point to this country’s campaign against drug cartel violence, which has left nearly 40,000 people dead in the four years since President Felipe Calderón began a crackdown on organized crime.

“What my son did was give a name and a face to the 40,000 dead,” Mr. Sicilia said. “My pain gave a face to the pain of other families. I think a country is like a house, and the destruction of someone is the destruction of our families.”

And from Mexico we travel to what may one day be the state of Palestine.

It appears Obama really is going to try and deploy his new steel-plated testicles to revive the dead-by-design mid-east peace process. I must admit I find the timing of this surprising. Poking Israeli extremists and AIPAC while gearing up for a reelection campaign seems unwise.

In conclusion, here is a poem from an anthology titled Poets For Palestine, edited by Remi Kanazi.

*

THIS IS NOT A MASSACRE

What kind of war is this?
—Amira Hass, Ha’aretz, April 19, 2002

This is a humanitarian operation.
All efforts have been made to protect
civilians. Homes demolished
above the heads of owners
ensure the absence of booby-traps.
Surely the dead are grateful:
this operation saved lives.

Our task is damage control.
Keep out the medical teams.
Let the voices beneath the rubble
fade away. Keep out the Red Cross,
the ambulances, the international observers,
the civilians bearing food and water:
mercy has no place
in the “city of bombers.”

Extermination of vipers’ nests
requires absolute precision.
Ignore the survivors
searching through ruins for shards
of their lives: a plate, a shoe,
a cup, a sack of rice. Ignore
the strewn body parts,
the leg twisted yards away
from the white and bloated hand;
the boys cradling a small charred foot.
Dismembered bodies
cannot remember themselves.

What remains? Only traces.
that photo (dead girl,
hand clutched at her side,
once-white ribbon still discernible
on her pallid profile,
ashen skin melting into the dust
that clogs her mouth):
nothing more than shadow
of the drowned, odor of mint
wafting from a grave.

Say it fast over and over:
this is not a massacre this
is not a massacre this is not
a massacre this is not a
massacre this is not
a massacre this is not a
massacre

for the people of Jenin, Palestine

—Lisa Suhair Majaj

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