In solidarity with the refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries recently barred from entering the US, we spotlight today the work of Syria-born Ghayath Almadhoun, the poet to whom Jazra Khaleed dedicated his “The War is Coming” poem three weeks ago in this very showcase. Especially in the second poem, “Massacre,” the stark and brutal reality of war is driven home.
Shaken by the developments coming out of America in the past few days, we at Asymptote have been working around the clock to try to fundraise for a Special Feature spotlighting new writing from the seven banned countries in our next issue, in an attempt to offer a high-profile platform for those newly affected by the fallout of those developments. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at email@example.com.
How I became…
Her grief fell from the balcony and broke into pieces, so she needed a new grief. When I went with her to the market the prices were unreal, so I advised her to buy a used grief. We found one in excellent condition although it was a bit big. As the vendor told us, it belonged to a young poet who had killed himself the previous summer. She liked this grief so we decided to take it. We argued with the vendor over the price and he said he’d give us an angst dating from the sixties as a free gift if we bought the grief. We agreed, and I was happy with this unexpected angst. She sensed this and said ‘It’s yours’. I took it and put it in my bag and we went off. In the evening I remembered it and took it out of the bag and examined it closely. It was high quality and in excellent condition despite half a century of use. The vendor must have been unaware of its value otherwise he wouldn’t have given it to us in exchange for buying a young poet’s low quality grief. The thing that pleased me most about it was that it was existentialist angst, meticulously crafted and containing details of extraordinary subtlety and beauty. It must have belonged to an intellectual with encyclopedic knowledge or a former prisoner. I began to use it and insomnia became my constant companion. I became an enthusiastic supporter of peace negotiations and stopped visiting relatives. There were increasing numbers of memoirs in my bookshelves and I no longer voiced my opinion, except on rare occasions. Human beings became more precious to me than nations and I began to feel a general ennui, but what I noticed most was that I had become a poet.
Massacre is a dead metaphor that is eating my friends, eating them without salt. They were poets and have become Reporters With Borders; they were already tired and now they’re even more tired. ‘They cross the bridge at daybreak fleet of foot’ and die with no phone coverage. I see them through night vision goggles and follow the heat of their bodies in the darkness; there they are, fleeing from it even as they run towards it, surrendering to this huge massage. Massacre is their true mother, while genocide is no more than a classical poem written by intellectual pensioned-off generals. Genocide isn’t appropriate for my friends, as it’s an organised collective action and organised collective actions remind them of the Left that let them down.
Massacre wakes up early, bathes my friends in cold water and blood, washes their underclothes and makes them bread and tea, then teaches them a little about the hunt. Massacre is more compassionate to my friends than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Massacre opened the door to them when other doors were closed, and called them by their names when news reports were looking for numbers. Massacre is the only one to grant them asylum regardless of their backgrounds; their economic circumstances don’t bother Massacre, nor does Massacre care whether they are intellectuals or poets, Massacre looks at things from a neutral angle; Massacre has the same dead features as them, the same names as their widowed wives, passes like them through the countryside and the suburbs and appears suddenly like them in breaking news. Massacre resembles my friends, but always arrives before them in faraway villages and children’s schools.
Massacre is a dead metaphor that comes out of the television and eats my friends without a single pinch of salt.
Translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham
Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian poet born in Damascus 1979 who has lived in Stockholm since 2008. Almadhoun has published three collections of poetry, the latest in Beirut in 2014 and his work has been translated into many languages. In Sweden Almadhoun has been translated and published in two collections: Asylansökan (Ersatz, 2010) which was awarded the “Klas de Vylders stipendiefond” for immigrant writers. He also authored Till Damaskus (Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2014) together with the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg, which was included in “Dagens Nyheter” literary critic list for Best New Books in Sweden and converted to a Radio Play for Swedish National Radio. With Silkeberg, Almadhoun has also made several poetry films which can be viewed at Moving Poems. The Dutch translation of his poems, Weg van Damascus (Uitgeverij Jurgen Maas, 2014) was one of the top 10 selling poetry books in Belgium for several weeks in 2015. A series of poems by Almadhoun will be projected next month as part of “For Aarhus”, a new work by the renowned American artist Jenny Holzer. Adrenaline, a poetry collection by Almadhoun and translated into English by Catherine Cobham, is upcoming by Action Books, USA.
Catherine Cobham is Head of the department of Arabic and Persian at the University of St Andrews and has translated the works of many Arab writers, including Naguib Mahfouz, Mahmoud Darwish, Fuad al-Takarli, Yusuf Idris, and Hanan al-Shaykh.
Read More Translations: