Showing posts with label Arabic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arabic. Show all posts

"Over and Over He Said 'Survive'": the Poetry of Khaled Mattawa in Light of Libya

I was lucky, at Duke in the mid-1990s, to overlap for a few years with the Libyan poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, then enrolled in Duke's Ph.D. program. I don't think I really grasped the extent to which Khaled's experience as an expatriate (really, exile) would end up impacting me at the time. And I was also a bit too young to be able grasp the level of accomplishment and power of Khaled's first published book of poetry, Ismailia Eclipse. (Sheep Meadow Press, 1995. The book is difficult to find now, though Khaled has helpfully put many of the important poems online here.)

Since the recent uprising in Libya began, I've been slowly revisiting Khaled's work and using the poems, where possible, to help process the incredibly stirring -- but also distressing -- events that are taking place in that country. As one of very few Libyan intellectuals fluent in English living in the United States, Khaled has of course been in demand in the U.S. media in the past two weeks. He did a great interview on PBS's NewsHour, and another on NPR in the past few days. But the most moving statement he's made in light of the rebellion is to write a personal account of growing up in Libya (Benghazi) at the beginning of Qadhafi's rule: "Rising to Shake Off the Fear in Libya". (The essay has appeared as an Op-Ed in several newspapers today.)

Here is an excerpt from that Op-Ed:

A few months earlier on April 7, 1977, members of the revolutionary committees had plastered a poster of Gadhafi’s image on my father’s car. On that same day they had, under the dictator’s direct supervision, publicly hanged several dissidents in Benghazi. 
On the day of the execution, the Ghibli winds blowing from the desert filled the air with dust and turned the sky into a reddish-gray canopy. I’d taken a bus with a friend to catch a movie downtown. Nearing Shajara Square, the bus simply turned around and took us back to where we had come from. Later that evening, state television repeatedly broadcast the hangings. I went to our garage to peel the dictator’s poster off our car. It took an interminably long time.
Along with millions of other Libyans, I have never stopped trying to peel Gadhafi’s image from my life. Even after I came to the United States in 1979 to continue my education, the dictator seemed to follow me. He was the one Libyan most people had heard of, and they wanted to talk about him. I used to be enraged when women told me how handsome he was. To me he was the face of evil itself, the face of separation, exile, thuggery, torture and lies.
(Source: )

Reading this, I couldn't help but think of Khaled's early poem, published in Ismailia Eclipse, describing the very same event, "Fifty April Years". Here is an excerpt from that poem, which Khaled has posted in its entirety on his website: