Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

h1

Poetic Pomegranates

July 27, 2012

Nothing like a Rumi poem about pomegranates to sum up what is hip in

Pomegranate in Progress

literature and food circles today.  Both these Middle Eastern imports—Rumi and pomegranates– have gone from near obscurity to near cliché levels in Western cultural hotspots over the past few years.  Yet another reason for the pomegranate to laugh in Rumi’s poem.

I remember my first pomegranate.  I was seven, late in life for a Middle Easterner to be introduced to all its wonder.  But we were living in Minnesota then, and the even the mango had yet barely made an appearance.  One Saturday, my father beheld, much to his surprise and delight, a small pomegranate resting amidst the fake grass in the produce section at Byerly’s.  Byerly’s was the far away luxury supermarket we occasionally took a road trip to in the hopes finding just such a food memento.  Byerly’s had already given us whole dates and a few inches of sugar cane and a coconut.  I liked the store mostly because it was where Mary shopped in the opening credits to Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Back in our kitchen, our father warned us to stand back as he broke open the pomegranate, carefully chasing any of the precious luminescent red drops that escaped.  My brother and I chomped on the sweet seeds, smiling while trying not to let the juice burst out our mouths as my mother hovered around us with a box of Kleenex at the ready, fearing that we would permanently splatter our shirts crimson.  Indeed, the pomegranate leaves its mark on our clothes and fingers and souls.  This is why it appears in Middle Eastern poems, books, and films, like Najwa Najjar’s award winning Pomegranates and Myrrh.

Every trendy restaurant in London and Los Angeles seems to have found a place for pomegranate on the menu, particularly using the lush, goopy, sour pomegranate molasses.  American cuisine is innovative and evolving—always the anticipation of a new taste sensation replacing the old, just like a new TV season.  We look back at wheat germ and pineapple upside down cake the way we look back Mayberry RFD.  Middle Eastern cuisine is based on centuries of tradition, the comfort of savoring the expected, plus or minus this ingredient or that ingredient.  That includes plus or minus the pomegranate:  as the primary dressing ingredient in Lebanese fattoush, as a broth in which kibbe is simmered in Aleppo, Syria, as a topping for baba ghanoush in Jordan.  However, much like Rumi is to Iranian (or Persian) poetry, the pomegranate is to Iranian (or Persian) cuisine.  Iranians seem to be able to successfully stew just about anything in it.  I love this recipe from my friend Anita Amirrezvani, inspired by her new critically-acclaimed novel Equal of the Sun.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/99616690/Lamb-with-Pomegranate-and-Saffron-when-a-great-book-inspires-great-cooking
Question to ponder:  Did the Arabic word for pomegranates (ruman) derive from Rumi’s name, as that is where the pomegranate came from?

THE LAUGHTER OF POMEGRANATES:

If you buy a pomegranate,
buy one whose ripeness
has caused it to be cleft open
with a seed-revealing smile.

Its laughter is a blessing,
for through its wide-open mouth
it shows its heart,
like a pearl in the jewel box of spirit.
The red anemone laughs, too,
but through its mouth you glimpse a blackness.

A laughing pomegranate
brings the whole garden to life.
Keeping the company of the holy
makes you one of them
Whether you are stone or marble,
you will become a jewel
when you reach a human being of heart.

Plant the love of the holy ones within your spirit;
don’t give your heart to anything
but the love of those whose hearts are glad.
Don’t go to the neighborhood of despair:
there is hope.
Don’t go in the direction of darkness:
suns exist.

The heart guides you to the neighborhood of the
saints;
the body takes you to the prison of water and earth.
Give your heart the food of holy friends;
seek maturity from those who have matured.

~ Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Advertisements
h1

Being Good Enough

January 16, 2012

OUR PLIGHT
By: Michael J. Oghia
June 2011
Beirut, Lebanon
Dedicated to all my Arab–American brothers and sisters that know exactly how I feel. 

Who am I, but a complex amalgam of contradictory identities?
Two, which exist paradoxically, yet never seem to make you feel complete.
They glare at you for one,
Snarl at you,
Insult you,
Hunt you down,
You stand up,
They knock you down,
Reduce you down
To hurtful names,
To animals,
To parasites,
To a disease,
Making you feel like the world would be better off without you,
Constantly resonating the bitter warning:
“You will never be one of us.”

Others say you are the reason for everything bad:
War,
Poverty,
Endless torment,
Destruction,
Eviction.
Stealing everything that can fit into a Black Hawk helicopter.
They fight you,
Spit on you,
Shame you,
Blame you,
Beat you,
Burn you,
Destroy you,
Knock down your buildings,
For what?
Why?
“Because habibi, you are the problem.”

Is this the plight I have to live with?
This constant burden of living as two things that cannot simultaneously exist,
Just because me and those like me were born this way?
As this apparent hybrid monstrosity of alienation?
We never asked for it,
We never begged for it,
It was ascribed to us on day one.
Why is this our fight?
Why can’t we ever go “home?”
Where is home!?
Why can’t we be proud of who we are?
How can we!?
Why can’t we just be normal?
We are always in the middle.
Misunderstood,
Trying to fit in,
But we are the new marginalized.
Patriotic on one hand,
Public enemy number one on the other,
We are the enemy,
Even in a place we call home.

Who wants us?
We are foreign both here and there,
Neglected,
Misfits,
Tainted,
Always an outsider,
No matter where we go:
Undesired,
Unwelcome,
Uninvited;
Constantly carrying a cross embossed with a crescent,
Chained to the baggage begotten to us by both nationalism and ethnicity;
Embodied by a passport that is our contrast,
Our weight,
Our contradiction,
Our privilege,
Our prison.
We are prisoners to our own country,
To our own identity.
To hyperbolic politics,
Empty shepherding,
And abandoned relics.

We belong nowhere…

We’re never good enough for anyone!
And no matter whom you ask,
Or where they’re from,
Regardless of their religion,
Their eye color,
Their skin,
Their accent,
Their ID card,
This is always who you are in their eyes:
Arab as a sickness,
American as a curse.

h1

Talking Poetry, Not Osama

May 12, 2011

Because Abu Dhabi has become such a crossroads of the world since I have lived here, I find myself having a lot of “how did I get here” moments. For example in the years since 9-11, I’ve never sat around picturing where I’d be the day after Osama bin Ladin was put to rest, relatively speaking.  However, had I done so, I probably wouldn’t have come up this: at the home of the the Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs of the Embassy of the United States of America in Abu Dhabi, celebrating poetry with three acclaimed poets who had just gotten out of Nepal on a rickety plane that morning and were leaving for Afghanistan the next day, having begun their journey in Iowa.

Poetry is the bread and butter of Arab art and culture, and no country has nurtured the arts in modern times more than the US, so it was one of those positive cross cultural meetings, especially given the news of the day wasn’t quite settling in the same for the two peoples.  That the Osama news was so different depending on where you got your information also had its upside, as the reception was also recognizing World Press Freedom Day.

Poets Nathalie Handal, Bob Holman and Christopher Merrill were in Abu Dhabi as part of the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa.  Here’s the official explanation:  “The International Writing Program is the flagship cultural partner of the U.S. Department of State.  For more than 30 years, the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program has brought together more than 1,000 rising and established literary stars from 120 countries to spend a semester exploring the creative writing process. Authors, screenwriters, journalists, and other participants benefit from the rich literary heritage and resources of Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature. On the road, IWP writers carry out programming, often in collaboration with U.S. embassies and cultural centers, that helps audiences around the world think about the role the arts, and especially literature, can playing in building bridges of international communication.”  Take that anyone who thinks Iowa is just cornfields and pig farms.

Christopher Merrill, who directs the International Writing Program, read a poem in which a semi-hidden rattlesnake is an easily recognized metaphor.  Bob Holman, who studies dying languages for fun and has appeared on shows like HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, improvised in free verse on the possibility of writing from the other person’s side at the rapid, off tangent rate most of us find thoughts running through our head when we try to write.  Nathalie Handal, Palestinian American poet and one of the editors of the acclaimed anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond (W.W. Norton) read her poem, “Peace.”

I leave you with her latest poem, Freedom, about the current Arab revolutions.

http://www.guernicamag.com/poetry/2612/handal_poem_5_1_11/

h1

Outlandish Landless LandMine by Sami Zarour

June 27, 2010

Most of what I post on this blog are about the upside of life in the Middle East because most people living outside the borders of the Middle East, whether physically or mentally, are unaware that there is an upside.  Plus I don’t really know how to write about the

tragedies of the region without wanting to scream it all out on paper, which in general doesn’t make a good read, kind of like reality TV doesn’t make a good watch for me.  Reality is a tough thing to pull off truthfully and rationally.

So today I’ll leave it to Sami Zarour, full-time engineer, one-time model, part-time poet and one of my oldest and most rational friends.

Landless Landmine

OUTLANDISH   LANDLESS   LANDMINE
By Sami Zarour
Boorishly events are spin to evaporated still but fool is dish,

Such acute professional occupation for so nay shun so kitsch.

Accumulating adversary sipping six teas a sham anniversary,

Refuel to refuse refugees why In reality Is it In secure Is real.

Brim borders hoarder are ordered myopic meddling made it,

Terrain see tearing at tears wiping sheared visions intellect.

Four your eye two an I count free religious prayers preyed,

Hardly rock stony pebble softness unsettled by illicit build.

Bawling walls snivel grains from banging heads and two fists,

Crushed olive groves in the blood of fruit always blend less.

Your clouds on my sky, sole on my soul, bricks on my palace,

Time sits at a standstill peace juice in quicksand, no solace.

If I died first by you then tell me how could I have killed you?