I am glad to be joining the Poetry Friday community this week, as we at GatheringBooks walk along the Literary Silk Road and feature Chinese and Middle Eastern literature from May – June. Special thanks to Michelle Barnes of Today’s Little Ditty for hosting this week and rounding up the poetic goodies.
The poster above is created by Iphigene, our resident artist here at GatheringBooks.
The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East
Selected by: Naomi Shihab Nye
Published by: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002
Book borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me and edited using an iPhone app.
When we launched our reading theme, one of the first things I did was to hunt down all of Naomi Shihab Nye’s books from our library. This book has an unabridged hardcover version published by Simon and Schuster entitled The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East which I featured last year for our War and Poetry reading theme.
I recognized Ashrawi’s From the Diary Of An Almost Four-Year Old which is also found in The Flag of Childhood – a poem I featured a year ago. In Nye’s Introduction, it is clear that she wanted to highlight how human beings are essentially the same at their very core: regardless of religious or cultural differences. I responded to her call for greater peace through poetry with eyes filled with hope:
We must work every way we can toward wider expression and dialogue. We must keep reading poetry with renewed vigor, for courage and hope. Poetry, the most intimate form of expression, gives us a deeper sense of reality than headlines and news stories ever could.
We must remind ourselves to search every way we can for the wisdom that is peaceful. And we must remember that the one flag we all share is the beautiful flag of childhood that flies with hope in every country. This is the flag we should work to serve no matter who we are or where we live.
If my calculations are correct, there are 60 poems in all found in this little booklet. It begins with Mohammed Shehadeh’s Letters to Childhood and ends with Sa’id ‘Aql’s Quintrain. There are four sections in all that divide the collection into poetic themes: (1) A Galaxy of Seeds which plants narratives about the mundane daily life experiences as captured in History Class by Reza Shirazi or Mr. Ahmet’s Shoes by Kemalettin Tugcu. One is also able to discern how females are commonly regarded as evident in My Mother’s Wedding Parade by Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis and in Unveiled by Gladys Alam Saroyan.
In (2) The World Is A Glass You Drink From, the reader catches a glimpse of what it is like to travel with the night in The Train of the Stars by Abdul-Raheem Saleh al-Raheem or how one woman with the strength of a thousand men can hoist A Saddle & The World by May Mansoor Munn. I was able to taste the textures of these fleeting images and passing countries captured and imprisoned in the pages of this book such as Bethlehem.
(3) Pick A Sky And Name It is both a heart-wrenching lament and a defiant act of faith – my favourite theme in the entire book. There is the struggle for meaning as seen in Abdul Wahab al-Bayati’s Why Are We In Exile the Refugees Ask and the endless tears that lasted for thirty years in But I Heard The Drops by Sharif S. Elmusa. There is also the desperate longing for one who is gone in Give Birth to Me Again That I May Know by Mahmoud Darwish and the displacement of one who is on the other side of the border while home is a place where one’s permit has expired in The Home Within by Ibtisam S. Barakat. Yet there is also the spirit that can never be contained by checkpoints, armed soldiers, or so-called UN resolutions. Here is one of my favourites from this section:
In (4) There Was In Our House A River, the poems reflect a fragile transcendence that allows both the poet and the reader to be taken layers above the throbbing pain such as when A Song is transformed into an entire homeland in Muhammad al-As’ad’s poem, or when one stitches tragedy Thread by Thread “a map of love/ to tear down the borders” in Bracha Serri’s poem.
As I was reading the poems, I felt that Naomi Shihab Nye was telling me a story woven together through these various poets’ sharp and pungent, sweet and hopeful, tear-stained and star-lit experiences. My absolute favourite though, and one I plan to read in my conference presentation at the AFCC is Hamza El Din’s I Have No Address. I hope that you enjoy it too, dear friends, and that your soul be filled by these words that provide solace, whisper winds of deliverance, and hand over the entire world as a home for the displaced and forgotten.