Two Poems by Asmaa Asaizeh

Taken from Asymptote Journal.  Quite wonderful poems in their use of searing language to speak of the unspeakable…. ( translated from the Arabic by Yasmine Haj)

Do Not Believe Me Were I to Talk to You of War

War preoccupies me. But I’m ashamed to write about it. I flagellate my metaphors then implore them. Pain makes me depict a bullet, after which I recede into depicting an emotional slap. I disembowel the words and the harakiri victims awake, all of them, and disembowel me.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war, because when I spoke of blood, I was drinking coffee, when I spoke of graves, I was picking yellow daisies in Marj Ibn Amer, when I described the murderers, I was listening to my friends’ giggles, and when I wrote about a burnt theatre in Aleppo, I was standing before you in an air-conditioned one.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war. Because each time I bombarded the city streets in a poem, the concrete would recline, the lamps would sway towards it, and the prophets would pass by in peace.
Whenever I imagined my father’s skin flayed in it, I could still touch him afterwards, safe and sound, with an embrace. And whenever I heard my mother’s wailing, she would lull me to sleep with an old song, and I would sleep like a baby.

But dreams are open cheques
Signed by a Hourani woman whose….Read More

Author: philipparees

A writer ( mostly narrative poetry) of fiction and non-fiction. Self publisher of fiction and Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God (Runner-up Book of the Year (2013), One time builder ( Arts centre) Mother of four daughters: Companion of old man and old dog: One time gardener, lecturer, wannabe cellist, mostly enquirer of 'what's it all about', blogger and things as yet undiscovered.

13 thoughts on “Two Poems by Asmaa Asaizeh”

  1. I feel a surreptitious suspicion in you that supposes I am unacquainted with evil and degradation, or even worse that I succumb to the all-too-common rancid sense of virtue. I hope that is not true. Nothing is more pernicious than the prevailing assumption that if one embraces ‘high-minded’ spiritual or cultural aspirations that one is immune from any need to examine its breeding ground of intolerance, judgement and superiority.

    I have encountered the latter more frequently in the so called ‘elect’ than in any group of people, and been subject to more attacks from them, and vicious ones, and more predictable than in any other society. My closest friends are the men who plumb, repair, garden, and man the counters in trading estates ( and a very few on line readers and thinkers).

    It is precisely because I have, in the course of so called ‘insanity’ encountered the symptoms of real viciousness that I avoid some things that seem to foster and legitimise anger for its own sake, or nihilism for self glorification. I realise that admitting to puritanism is probably unwise, but may I plead that mine has been distilled from a life long acquaintance with intolerance, hatred, and every ‘ism’ you can name. It is why I avoid groups, and probably why my work is unknown to the very many who profess a belief in what it seeks to impart.

    But I DO understand that acquaintance with perversity and corruption, and perhaps a period of engagement with it, may well deepen an understanding of the full spectrum of human experience. I do sometimes wonder why animals have no need of it, to be fully themselves?


    1. Thanks for the response, Philippa. I don’t at all question your personal position, and utterly respect what you had to endure and to pay, so thoroughly and unspeakably, to arrive to it. I don’t think I need to tell you that at this point. I’m thinking aloud as I’m prone to do, seeking connections and assocations. I just came across the following in another blog comment section, which may or may not interest you, but it keeps the ball rolling in my own mind regarding this topic, sparked by the two searing poems by Asmaa Asaizeh (I got her last name spelled right this time. I also spelled Gibran’s last name wrong in your last post, spelling it there “Gabran”. What the hell’s the matter with me. Exclaims many a John’s friend, smiling, “Where do I begin!”) This is interesting to me especially because not long ago I went to see a Kubrick Retrospective at the Jewish Museum here, which had a gallery devoted to Clockwork Orange, and I think as well of our recent brief sharing of appreciation of Beethoven. (Did you see Popova’s recent Brain Pickings entry on Beethoven? Oh! Wonderful and inspiring!)

      I don’t offer this, Philippa, as a personal challenge to you or to stir up heated argument, but for contemplation.

      From an interview with Anthony Burgess, author of Clockwork Orange:

      Coale: “You said at one point that the good is some kind of existential sense, which is not merely ethical conduct. ‘There’s a good beyond ethical good which is always existential. There’s the central good, that aspect of God which we can prefigure more in the taste of an apple of the sound of music.’ That sounds almost romantic.”

      Burgess: “It’s not really romantic. It sounds it. I’ve always been worried about the tendency of people writing English to confuse the two kinds of good. George Steiner, the biggest bloody fool who ever lived, a man in a responsible situation, a man miraculously equipped with languages and learning, who is so foolish as to wonder why Nazis, why a concentration camp officer could listen to Schubert and at the same time send Jews to the gas… There are two different kinds of good. This is a horrible thing. A bad man listening to Beethoven. The man is going to kill his dog in a few minutes. It’s impossible, but this is the romantic heresy, the assumption that a work of art has some kind of moral content. This is very American too… moral content. How about Baudelaire? How about Les Fleurs du Mal? There is a sense in which a great work of art will seem to touch good in the other sense, but that’s only because the great work of art is neutral. It’s fairly harmless. It’s not committed to the world of action. If God exists, the goodness of God is not seen in ethical terms. God is not good to us. He is obviously not good to us, because He’s in no relationship with human beings. He’s removed from us. God is good. The experience of God is the experience of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, infinitely magnified…”


      1. ‘The Experience of Beethoven’s ninth…infinitely magnified’ is quite enough to be going on with!
        “No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from. ”
        “Keep true. Never be ashamed of doing right. Decide what you think is right and stick to it.”
        ― George Eliot


  2. Thank goodness I got some sleep.

    Thinking of your strong response, Philippa, I was thinking of this parallel, of how horrible it is that Falstaff stabbed the dead body of Hotspur, then picked the dead body up, hoisting it over his shoulder and dropped it like a sack of wheat, trying to steal credit for felling Hotspur in the field of battle, and coming off as disgusting, blasphemous, and utterly ridiculous. Are we to assume from that scene that Shakespeare was an awful person, morally bankrupt, and a barbarian? He imagined it. Likewise, how many horror movies there are; it’s a genre now. In them are depicted all kinds of awful things, and often quite fantastically, so unbelievable that tongue-in-cheek becomes part of their equation. But Henry the 4th is just a play, and horror movies are just movies. It seems a misapplied harsh judgement to assume lack of compassion in the human beings who made a horror film, understanding it as just that, not reality, and the same of individuals who make a big racket with certain instruments, essentially exploring a very dark side of the human imagination. But it’s just music. This can easily slide into the dangerous territory of censorship and condoning cracking down on certain forms of expression. It’s interesting to consider this in relation to Asmaa Asaizah’s two poems here, because she actually demonstrates the difference, depicting horror, while confessing to being in different places. The inadequate nature of language, or its limitations, are displayed in the face of horror. There comes a point where the articulate breaks down, and turns into cries and screams. Asaizah has built very effective criticism of reportage itself into her poems, showing how there are no words for real horror, and quite often indeed, when we try to find them, we find ourselves easily over-reaching, exaggerating, and falsifying.


    1. At no point, John, did I suggest that others should not express their anger, rejection, outrage in ways that were valid for them. They just don’t do it for me. That is why the poems resonated so deeply, precisely because she echoed my inability to scream, wail or thump. Yet in that refusal lay a deeper anguish; the recognition that no expression can convey the horror because it is beyond expression.


      1. Just drawing my thought out more, Philippa. It’s a fascinating problem to me, of where to draw the line, and when something turns from, let us say, valid human expression to something which undermines its own appeal to the human heart and conscience, and turns offensive and outrageous, and even outright nihilistic. The lines are not always clear; in fact they rarely are. “Creative anger” is not something which has a rule book; and in expressing it, one is bound to rub someone the wrong way, offending their own aesthetic sense, delicate nerves, or staid expectations.

        By the extremes, one comes better to understand the so-called norm. My interest in extremity and anomalies and oddities and eccentricities are not only (perhaps) due to personal perversity and corruption, feeding my Demons, but also as a means to help put in perspective and to see more of the whole picture.

        We all have Demons and Angels in us, so to speak. I find it another fascinating problem, and perhaps more outrageous than any death metal band could express, how those who only tend to their Angels, and fanatically so, more easily let the Devil slip in the back door, and quite often find themselves, with him whispering in their ear pretending to be otherwise – because, after all, he’s the master deceiver – not compassionate at all, but actually practicing cruelty and torture with self-righteous justification.

        I look at a lot of very dark and disturbing art and often feel that I’m witnessing a kind of exorcism which purges evil spirits, so to speak, though it gives full expression to them, until like a fire they rage and naturally burn themselves out, which ultimately restores the human being, more tested and coming out with a stronger, and more essential sense of him or herself. We certainly see such a process happening in Asmaa Asaizah’s wonderful poems!

        “I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me.” – Terence


  3. I like! I like! This doesn’t look away, being fearless in its honest reporting. Since you admit creative anger, Philippa, maybe I could nudge you toward sharing my interest in punk and death metal, and other kinds of extreme, dark, disturbing music which taps into it and gives it expression? (Probably not!) Anyway, it comes from the same place, but much of it, I admit, removes itself from seriousness by exaggeration and hyperbole, and is guilty of making sport of it, and lampooning it, and often in the worst taste, reveling in what should be condemned or mourned. These two poems are effective, however, shocking and horrifying, pathos left over like smoking rubble after bombs have been dropped, because she who carries the voice bears literal witness. One feels that one is there with her.


    1. No taker here John for punk or heavy metal, or even repetitive rap. I find them angry, yes, but exploiting anger to give legitimacy to ego, and exhibitionism; not what I mean by creative anger at all. I still look for refinement in the ‘creative’ component. Call me an unapologetic puritan or go further with ‘prude’- happy to plead guilty. Anarchic defiance has a place, marshalling indignation to raise a fist, certainly, but rather like the exhibitionist public wailing of the bereaved, it is disproportionate, and undermines what dignified stoicism would engender instead.

      Actually I am also interested in the work of Emoto and others on the effect of punk and heavy rock music on the structure of water. Since we are 90% water physically it may offer an explanation of the premature aging of such musicians. Certainly it makes me feel ill, and not in a way that offers any enlightenment, or experiences that imaginative compassion could not do better! Sorry.


      1. No need to apologize! You and I have reached a good level of honesty with each other, Philippa. I feel totally comfortable with anything you fling back in my face. All incarnations of truth welcome. My experience is different than yours, and you can hate what I’m drawn to, be it perverse, or explorations of the dark side. I have more than one dimension, many-sides, hanging out with ogres, and even drink at the trough with the pigs sometimes. Then the next moment I soar like an eagle, pounce like a tiger, or take off running like a gazelle. You have your own reasons, and I like when you fully air them.

        I’m dog tired. I go through these cycles of insomnia. Hopefully I drift off when I close my eyes.


  4. Philippa,

    I may be silent, renewing, reconnaissance, renewing. Reading your posts is always renewing. I will be in a more quiet spot one of these days and will savor our connection…which I do in between.

    You inspire me.



    1. Good to hear from you Evelyn. None of us can find quiet right now. I am more comforted by expressed pain and outrage than soothing admonishing! I believe in creative anger, or anger distilled like pure alcohol rub on an inflammation!

      Liked by 1 person

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