On December 31st, 2014, I submitted my thesis on the political agency of poetry. This date marked the conclusion of a long journey towards a Graduate Degree in Cultural Studies. It was a journey, a quest, in search of the deep connections between the daily practices of social change and the transformative power of literary texts. It was a journey seeking to bring together my practical knowledge as a social change activist, and my evolving knowledge as cultural critic. It was a journey in search of theoretical grounding to what I always knew to be true; that poetry matters. That poetry is important to our lives as individuals and as a society.
I love poetry for its complexity; for its ability to spark conversations. I love it for its integrity and illusiveness. The first encounter with a poem I love is like is like a gift; when you can’t wait to untangle it. This is how I felt when Marzuq Al-Halabi, a dear friend, a poet, scholar and activist, sent me his poem Deceit!
I placed the poem close to me and let it breathe. I waited for the moment when I will have time to write about it in peace and quiet. But these are not peaceful nor quiet time, so the poem lingered with me. Until now.
When writing about political agency of poetry one must resist the temptation not to enlist the poem for a specific political cause. I promised myself to resist. Not to speak too much about or for the poem. I wanted to let each reader find him or herself between the lines. So I will only say this: I love this poem because it looks the reader in the eye; because it endows the words with their deep meaning.
The original poem was written in Arabic. My dear friend, Rachel Tzvia Back, a wonderful poet and most gifted translator of poetry, made it possible for me to share this poem in English.
DECEIT! / Marzuk Alhalabi
Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back
Not a single one will go to hell
Not a single one will go to heaven
And not one will return
No beautiful woman waits
No grace will reign
The entire thing is language’s deceit.
Not a single one rose into the sky
Not a single one flew swiftly in the night
Not a single one walked on water
Not a single one returned from beyond.
The whole thing is deceit of grammar rules
In the naming of active subject and verbs!
Not a single one is pleasing his god
Not a single one disobeys him
Not a single one will earn his favor
Not a single one will forget him
The entire thing is mind deceit
Trickery of spirits weak!
Not a single one is martyred
All are murdered
There is no beautiful death
Every death is ugly
There is no heroism in this death
It is the ruse of words on this death in vain.
Not a single one is marking the borders
Not a single one will set up the scales
Not one will be just toward you,
Not a single one will determine your end
The entire affair is a decrepit old clock
From which time has run out.