Start with an apology. ‘ Sorry!’ is Amir Darwish’s heartfelt apology to humanity from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) for the contributions made by Muslims to world culture and now so fully integrated into our lives we forget where they come from.
We are sorry for everything
That we have caused humanity to suffer from.
Sorry for Algebra and the letter X.
Sorry for all the words we throw at you;
Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,
Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,
Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,
Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,
Mattress (yes mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it: We are sorry for all of these.
This reversing of the traditional Western mindset of ‘ there ‘ is a gentle reminder of why the ‘other’ image beloved in Western media of Muslims is not even a crude caricature but a travesty of a contribution that could give so much more if allowed to fully express itself rather than run from its homeland. Amir Darwish is a British/Syrian poet of Kurdish origin born in Aleppo in 1979 who came to the UK as an asylum seeker during the Second Gulf War. His new volume, Don’t Forget the Couscous, is a song of love and loss.
I am a chicken tikka masala in a Sunday night take-away for lovers.
I am Mohammed to my Parisian friends but Jacques on my CV.
I am a Friday night doner kebab after a good night out.
He is sensual with a lover’s eyes consisting of two oceans (Soukaina’s eyes), talking of love and encountering it in Budapest, Australia and the Atlas Mountains but it is also clear that the poet misses his homeland.
The body can be an African field ( Imagine) or an Arabian oasis (This Body) but in the epic To write for and to Morocco the reader gains a sense of what could have been produced if allowed to live uninterrupted by War. Without a doubt exile has made the senses keen but Don’t Forget the Couscous, another contribution by Muslims, does make one wonder how much of this great volume is influenced by exile and home.
Take tea with the Taliban
Owen Gallagher brings another perspective in Tea with the Taliban. His poem The Unofficial Exhibit graphically reminds us that collateral damage from war is on our streets too.
The Unofficial Exhibit
The streets of London are paved with ex-soldiers ,
from the Falklands to Afghanistan,
in hand to hand combat with themselves.
They are concussed by war. No truce
or curfew is declared . There is no bandage
to cover memory. Each night they are positioned
at the bins of restaurants , cat-nap with
their nightmares in doorways.
Gallagher’s volume is a book about imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but it ranges wider than that as it is about tribes both real and imagined. Some are close to home. He served in the wars at The Gorbals Palace, which was his first introduction into two warring tribes. It’s also fun and those of us who attended Saturday morning matinees at the local flea pit will recognise ourselves in it. Whilst it ends on a cynical note in Democracy Was a Fine Idea he has a better idea with the poem The Minister of Poetry.
Under the State of Emergency ,
the first act of the new Government
will be to declare a Department of Poetry
to address the growing decline
of the nation’s minds.
What a splendid idea. It’ll never happen of course as state recognition of poets here has to come with a Royal seal of approval.
Amir Darwish and Owen Gallagher both remind us to stop and listen to each other, to stop hurting each other, to slow down, love and be sensual and sensitive to each other. Both volumes remind us that the word still has power. Go on: Take tea with the Taliban and Don’t Forget the Couscous.
Both volumes are published by Smokestack Books. Order direct or via your local independent bookshop. Stay clear of Amazon.
Featured image: Tulip tiles, detail from the Harem, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul