Caroline Stockford: Manual for mourning a great poet

Hüseyin Özdemir, küçük İskender, 2006. Source: instagram.com/huseyinozdemir1

“Because life is the most tragic, most magnificent, most merciless trick death can play on us.”

küçük İskender, “Someone Call an Ambulance”

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When you first hear of his illness, you should be in the company of a genius journalist at seven at night and still at work. Upon going into the underwater world of shock, you should walk with said visiting journalist to the fountain that the ravens frequent in Vienna’s Volksgarten. Sit on a bench.  As you watch the cascades of crystal beads streaming from between stone wreathes and sculpted longing you might say,

“I can’t cry yet.”

You may regret not having published books with the great poet and letting him have his own way with the stage play you wrote as a canto of his lines.  But you didn’t finish it. Now, this is finishing it.

“When the question is asked: ‘Is there death, after life?'”

küçük İskender, “Necromantic”

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Shipping Traffic: Youssef Rakha in Robin Moger’s Translation

The grey ships come from the north,

The snow-white ships come from the pole,

The ships of the south are all broken down.

O Harbourmaster sitting on the cloudbanks,

O Harbourmaster walking on the water,

Tell those leaping on the equator line

How their flesh might turn to wood,

How their bones might turn to steel,

Until from out their bodies comes a ship

Its black pushing through the swell.

Mustajab VII: The Countryside Photography of Khaled Al Shoura

Blessed is he who lays a flower on a tomb or a palace or a breast, is he who is born in the seventh month or the twelfth, is the throat become gorge, is he who slaughters his only horse out of kindness. Blessed is he who sinks to his knees pleading forgiveness or overcome with lust, is he who bears a cross upon his back, is he who boils a porridge of cement to hoodwink his children’s hunger, is the sniffer become snout, is the time when a wife could gather together the pieces of her helpmeet’s corpse and he would live, are the truths cowering in the crevices of falsehood, is the nation that feeds on the chatter of the worthless, is the nation that feeds on the prattling of the powerful, is the gulp become gullet. Blessed is he who fashions an ear from clay and an ear from dough until his head is severed, is a sun that still rises in the East, is a star that shines through on a cloudy day. Blessed be this tale, which would not have be told of Mustajab VII were it not for that incident, revealed to the world by a wordsmith whose father laboured as a screenwriter, wherein Mustajab VII secretly murdered Mustajab VI, sold his body to students studying dissection and with the proceeds erected a sumptious pavilion replete with dazzling lights and microphones that resounded with proverbial wisdom, to outfox foes and keep in remembrance the glorious exploits of Clan Mustajab, ancient and modern, then stood at its entrance to receive the sincerest of condolences. This is a slander against the man, which lays the very heart of truth to waste and strikes at the crux of our tale, the point at which it joins with what took place thereafter, for which reason we set over this incident an upturned water jar, and kept it hid.


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Brad Fox Does the Holy Quran

Detail from Umayyad Quran, before AD 725. Source: nybooks.com

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a train compartment from Casablanca to Marrakech with a Moroccan transport engineer, a Dutch-Italian couple, and a professor of Islamic culture back from Saudi Arabia for his summer holiday. The professor was talkative, repeatedly offering to buy everyone coffee and sandwiches. In a combination of fusha and a bit of English he went on about how people needed to know that Islam is not al-Qaeda and Da’esh, but love and friendship. At one point he asked us if anyone objected to him reciting a bit of the Qur’an. No one did, so he closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and began reciting, quietly, beautifully. Afterward he asked the Dutch-Italian couple if they could feel the beauty of the language. Then, in the same voice and incantatory style, he said (in fushaI am going to a new city. I will arrive and look for a restaurant and a place to sleep.  He turned to them and asked if that felt different, but they couldn’t understand the question, and no one translated it, so we never got an answer. 

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Ulayya bint al-Mahdi’s Epigram by Yasmine Seale

Gustav_Klimt_046

Gustav Klimt,  Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Source: Wikipedia

To love two people is to have it 

coming: body nailed to beams,

dismemberment.

But loving one is like observing

religion.

I held out until fever 

broke me. 

How long can grass

brave fire?

If I did not have hope

that my heart’s master’s

heart might bend to mine, 

I would be stranded, no

closer to gate than home.

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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55: Yasmine, Robin, Mohieddin

Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.

Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool from a 16th-century Khamsa by Nizami. Source: Wikipedia


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Y(i)

 

Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet

is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.

 

Meeting him, unreckoned

things happen. In place of healing,

another ache of longing.

 

Because to meet him is to see

a person whose beauty grows

ever more abundant, proud.

 

All I can do is match my love’s ascent

To his loveliness on its measured scale.

 

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