Friday, August 03, 2007


Why Poetry Matters

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and

The remnants of my body.

Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world.
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace."

--Jumah Al Dossari

In a genre known for its slim volumes, Poems from Guantanamo (University of Iowa Press), Marc Falkoff, ed., borders on skinny. There are only 31 poems. The Pentagon has confiscated and destroyed many more, 25,000 lines from one poet alone, holding that poetry presents "a special risk" to national security because of its "content and format." The translations that appear have been done by linguists with top secret clearances; Falkoff notes that the grace of phrasing in the originals has been sometimes lost.

Detainees were denied paper and pen for the first year of their incarceration. They wrote on styrofoam cups using pebbles for pens. Most poems ended up in the trash. Once they were granted writing materials, many of their poems met the fate of the cup poems. Many more poems are being stored at the Pentagon, which fears that the poems contain codes to be interpreted on the outside by terrorists.

Cup Poem

Handcuffs befit brave young men,
Bangles are for spinsters or pretty young ladies.

--Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost

It is interesting to note than only eight per cent of the detainees are accused of being al Qaeda fighters, and only five per cent were captured by U.S. forces on Afghanistan battlefields, and fewer than half are accused of committing a hostile act against the U.S. The author of the Cup Poem above was finally released in 2005 after being judged as not a threat to the U.S. When he and his brother began to publish their memoirs of his Guantanamo experience, he was picked up by Pakistani intelligence and hasn't been heard from since.

Poets are indeed dangerous people, but not for the reasons the Pentagon imagines. They stick our sorry noses in the truth, always a pernicious act for both poet and reader. The poems and commentaries make this book a valuable addition to your library. Do check it out.

I'm afraid if I checked out that book I'd get even angrier.
I think KZ is sadly right.

It bears repeating every chance I get: The U.S. dropped leaflets in both Iraq and Afghanistan telling people that if they turned in a 'terrorist' they would get lots of American money.

five bucks say many of them are just people that their neighbors had a grudge against.
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