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"30 days hath September, April, June and November..." These are the opening lines of a verse penned in English back in 1562, appearing in a book by Richard Grafton. A poem to remember the number of days in each month of the year. Today is the last day of April and the last day of "National Poetry Month" in the United States. From the beginning of recorded history, we have "poems" written in various meters and styles from all over the planet. Originally, the word "poet" was Greek, transcribed into Latin and translated as "a maker" or sometimes as "a creator" in the English language. There are poets of all races, nationalities, religions and economic status. Though, by far males are published more than females; we don't really know how many women are writing or have written poetry but were/are never formally published. I imagine there are more women poets in the world than men, it's just so many have to hide their passion and talent because of their circumstances.
The American poet EE Cummings wrote in a letter to a young poet in 1955, "My advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die."
Among other descriptions of who I am, I am a published poet. I think in poetry, view the world as a "warrior poet", and applaud those other "warrior poets" wherever they may be writing anywhere in the world. This week I write about two "warrior poets" I know who are still alive and still writing in some of the world's most challenging locations. In many countries even now, to be a poet, especially as a female, is a dangerous venture. To some, the pen or keyboard of a poet is mightier than the 'sword' or gun of a soldier.
There is no "best" poet in any society or in the world. Poetry is a personal preference, no matter what academics may decide to teach or media may promote. There are "classics" which most know in their own native language and which others have translated especially if the poem somehow touched onto elements common in our human condition: grief, love, joy, loss, doubt, betrayal, children, growing older, giving birth, war, oppression, freedom....death and so forth. Often you are considered to be "educated well" if you know poetry from writers such as Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Lorca, Pushkin, Pasternik, Rumi, Hafez, Emerson, Kahil Gibran, William Blake, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Wilde, Pascal, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anais Nin, Wilfred Owen, Meng Jiao, Stefan Zary and so many more. Each of these writers has their own voice and style. Poetry is dependent upon understanding the language and even the metaphors specific to the culture written about. Poetry can be a code.
Certain nations value their poets more than most-Russia, Italy, Greece, Persia (Iran), Ireland, South Africa, the Gulf States, Spain, the United States, Iceland, Australia, India and Iraq. All these countries have national prizes, national organizations and media platforms for poets. The Arab countries of Kuwait and the UAE host poetry "idol" on national television in Arabic, China features "Classical Poetry Reciting" shows, America traditionally has a poet read during the Presidential Inauguration ceremony, the "Read Russia" prizes are highly competitive, broadcast nationally and have many categories for poets and poet readers to perform for the cameras.
Most countries require poetry by their ordained "national poets" to be in school curriculum. Poetry and poets are often used by those in power to sway, persuade and inculcate the feelings, values and points of view they want to indoctrinate in their citizenry. Poets, throughout history, have also been arrested, imprisoned and executed just for their words, or for their lack of complicity in a regime. Poets have been proven to be right in their predictions, their observations of human nature and their ability to understand the landscapes of human emotions. This ability often scares people and a common response to fear is suppression and/or denial.
Mystical and religious poets open the doors of perception with different handles than artists, dancers or musicians. Poets can transform a place of poverty, brutality, ugliness and terror into an atmosphere infused with beauty, sensuality, exquisite hope, originality and peace...simply with words. Poets may possess insights and articulate perceptions that non-poets can never match. Poets have gifts money cannot buy or destroy.
True poets will write even if no one reads or publishes their poems. They write because they "must", be it in a stream of consciousness, considered labor or ephemeral inspiration. The quantity is not important. Haiku are considered for their brevity and quality, for example. Touching the spirit or the skin of another human by words, igniting them to action, holding them in comfort with verse after verse, sustaining them through struggle, is part of what the mission of poets is; no matter where they live or how much 'schooling' they may have had.
One small country which recognizes it's native poets and also provided shelter for refugee poets is Aotearoa/New Zealand. Two poets who escaped the wrath of Saddam Hussein, then arrived in New Zealand before the war of 2003, are Najat Abdullah and Basim Furat. Wellington, New Zealand was their home for a few years and Aotearoa gave them a safe place to start to heal and gain strength to travel out and continue their writing.
Above is a photo of Najat Abdullah. I knew Najat in Wellington. She is a powerful poet and courageous human being. After being in exile from Iraq, she returned a few years ago to Baghdad. Fortunately, Najat never stopped writing. She is sought after as a speaker, reader and teacher in many parts of the world. She has five books of poetry published in Arabic and some poems are translated into English. We were able to reconnect while I was in Kurdistan last year.
Basim Furat is still writing. After serving in the Iraqi army as a conscript, then imprisoned under Sadam's rule, he was finally able to flee to New Zealand. He married a Kiwi woman. We met in Wellington where he was one of my patients as well as a fellow writer and reader with the New Zealand International Writers Group. He worked in Wellington in various jobs until he decided to travel, write and work abroad. In 2014, Basim Furat went to Sudan and decided to stay. His latest book of poetry is called, "The Herdsmen's Inkpot" published by Almusawwarat Publishers based in Khartoum.
Here are a few lines from his poem "Here and There" published by HeadWorX, a New Zealand publishing company which published a few of Basim's poetry books.
HERE AND THERE
by Basim Furat
Translated from the Arabic by Abdul Monem Nasser
Edited by Mark Pirie
My sweet refuge!
Your streets are lean like the waists of women
Flanked by dancing trees
Your gardens take me to the Hanging Gardens
Which always lie in my memory
Your rivers are unlike the Euphrates:
I see them starting to sweat
Before the glamour of the Tigris
Your mountains bring me to Assyria and to the Four Deities
They astound me and sneak into my dreams
Poetry doesn't have to rhyme or be in any particular form in the 21st century, but children are often first introduced to poetry by the musicality, rhythm and the ease of rhyming verses. Many song lyrics rhyme making them easier to remember and repeat. Poetry can be commercialized and this is one way poets can earn some extra income-by writing for advertising, marketing and even for political slogans and special events.
Would the world be diminished without poets? Would our human lives be lessened without poetry? Can you recall lines from any poem you learned or heard? Have you ever written a poem to a family member, a romantic interest, to make someone laugh or blush? Have you used a poem to express sympathy, condolences or cheer? Do you remember the words to songs you like by their rhymes? I reckon you have answered more "yes" than "no" to my queries. If so, then you know that poets lives do matter, did matter, in your own life...true?!
The better writers, poets especially, are people who know themselves and have their own permission to express and create without fear of inner or outer censorship. If you are continually worried about choosing words that are going to be considered 'politically correct' and pander to those ever changing modes of "cool"; or deliberately 'dumb down' your verse and message to be 'popular/publishable'- then you are not one of the "Warrior Poets".
Be bold enough to read poetry aloud sometime. Cherish those poems and poets who move you. Read poetry to your children, to any children who like to listen . Don't be afraid to write poetry...hand written poems...to someone you love. Encourage others to write poetry. You can do this anytime of the year, not just during a 'National Poetry Day' or 'Poetry Month'.
Closing this week with a photo of me reading a book of poetry, verses for children to my own children, when they were very young. Both my children continued writing and sometimes wrote poems in cards, to their loved ones and simply for expressing their moods. It is taking courage to share this memory with you, yet I feel the image itself could be viewed as a poem, maybe even a sweet haiku recalling a happy time when we were all still alive, still a family and full of hopes for our futures. I did write a poem inspired by this photo. You can read it if you like, since it is published online. The title is: "What I Miss" allpoetry.com/poem/14123494-What-I-Miss-by-Jo-Patti
Until next week I leave you with a blessing which could also be seen and read as a poem. Originally written in Gaellic, the native Irish language, the author is unknown. In the verse, the reference to wind is thought to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, who came as a “mighty wind” at Pentecost.
For Christians everywhere, Pentecost is seven weeks after Easter Sunday.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.