from I Imagine a Poet

by Khaled Mattawa, translating from the Arabic by Adonis

copyright ©2010 by Yale University

A salute to Jacques Berque

I imagine his voice as the sound of a tambourine,
that the tambourine is broken in his throat,
that his throat is a fire named God.

I imagine a poet
into whose innards history pours
drenching his words and pooling at his feet,
a poet who rains blood that some hoist as a banner made of sky.

Notes on the Poem

Previously discussing Adonis: Selected Poems from the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, we've noted with admiration how translator Khaled Mattawa has forged powerful poems that stand as unique entities distilled from the source of Adonis' works in Arabic. As we look again at an excerpt from another selection from this collection, we continue to marvel ... as we catch our breath. What an imagining of what a poet can be and what a poet can achieve! In the first of the two stanzas drawn from the longer poem, the tambourine is a jaunty symbol of music and rhythm and percussion, rousing the listener to motion. Then, from one line to the next, that symbol is shattered ... and yet ... "his throat is a fire named God" ... the poet carries on defiantly. That momentum carries on into the second stanza of this selection, which vividly depicts how a poet can uphold passionately historical truths. When the poet "rains blood", which can be understood as the emblematic words of his (or her) poetry, others can take that blood, those words as their banner, their inspiration. The poem salutes Jacques Berque, who clearly had a profound effect on Adonis. Berque, who died in 1995, was a French Islamic scholar and sociologist whose expertise focused on the decolonisation of Algeria and Morocco. Not long before his death, his translation from Arabic to French of Adonis' poems in the collection Soleils seconds was published. Mattawa has conveyed strikingly the importance of Berque to Adonis to English-speaking poetry lovers, at the same time painting a shining and universal portrait of what a poet can stand for.

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