A kind reader emailed to inform me of the passing of Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus. Here is a lovely piece about Boulus and his work by fellow Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, who recounts the last time he saw Boulus, already very sick, at a literary festival in a small town in France. Youssef eulogizes Boulus, saying:
وأقول إنه الشاعرُ الوحيدُ…
هو لم يكن سياسياً بأيّ حالٍ.
لكنه أشجعُ كثيراً من الشعراء الكثارِ الذين استعانوا برافعة السياسة حين تَرْفعُ…
لكنهم هجروها حين اقتضت الخطر!
وقف ضدّ الاحتلال، ليس باعتباره سياسياً، إذ لم يكن سركون بولص، البتةَ، سياسياً.
وقفَ ضد الاحتلال، لأن الشاعر، بالضرورة، يقف ضد الاحتلال.
هو من سُــمُوّ قصيدته.
And here’s my (humble) translation:
And I say he is the only poet…
He was not political in any case.
But he was more courageous than many other poets who used the banner of politics when it suited
and then abandoned it when it presented danger.
He stood against occupation, not because he was political, since Sargon Boulus was not political at all.
He stood against occupation because the poet, by necessity, stands against occupation
The eminence of his position
is the eminence of his poem.
You can read the rest of Youssef’s piece here.
Even though we moved back to Los Angeles about two months ago, I have yet to catch up with all my forwarded mail. And I still have not renewed any of my usual subscriptions (except for the New York Review of Books). So it’s with more than a little wistfulness that I look at interesting issues of some magazines. This week’s New Yorker, for instance, has a wonderful poem by Robert Bly, an essay by Elizabeth Kolbert about the disturbing tendency by U.S. automakers to take billions in government help without producing fuel-efficient cars, and a piece on the Frida Kahlo “cult” (of which I will freely admit to being a member.)
Orhan Pamuk has a brief essay at the Guardian about reading the Paris Review interviews as a young author in Istanbul. “In the beginning,” he writes, “I read these interviews because I loved these writers’ books, because I wished to to learn their secrets, to understand how they created their fictive worlds. But I also enjoyed reading interviews with novelists and poets whose names I hardly knew, and whose books I had not read.”
I heard the incredible story of twin sisters Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein on NPR yesterday. Here’s the blurb from the station’s site:
Separated in infancy and given up for adoption, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein grew up unaware that they had an identical twin. Their new memoir, Identical Strangers, chronicles their story of separation, reunion and identity.
Records from the adoption agency indicate that the identical twins’ separation and adoption placement in the late 1960s was connected to a psychological study investigating the effects of nature versus nurture.
The segment is a bit long, but it’s absolutely fascinating.
My review of Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying and Cion appears in the November 12 issue of The Nation, but the piece is already available online. I wrote this back in August, but my editor at the magazine left to join the LRB, so it took a little while to get the piece through with the transition. Here’s an excerpt:
Over his long and prolific career, South African writer Zakes Mda has produced plays, novels and stories that explore very different characters, eras and landscapes. In Ways of Dying, two childhood friends from a small village in South Africa reconnect decades later in an unnamed city, their relationship fulfilled only when they reconcile with their painful past. In The Heart of Redness, villagers in the Eastern Cape fight over whether to celebrate or denigrate the legacy of a nineteenth-century teenager who prophesied that if the Xhosa people killed their cattle and burned their crops, the ancestors would be resurrected to defeat the British colonizers. The Madonna of Excelsior chronicles the coming of age of a South African woman whose mother and father were tried in 1971 under the Immorality Act for having interracial sex. Mda’s latest book, Cion, is set in a small town in Ohio that once provided refuge for runaway slaves. It features a cast of characters who struggle with how to fit this important historical fact into their lives, their relationships and even their art. The connecting thread in all these novels seems to be the unresolved presence of the past. It hovers like a ghost, at once forbidding and inviting, seductive and terrifying, depressing and inspiring.
Mda is deeply concerned with how people remember the past, how they use it to shape the present, how they call upon it to fashion modern selves, modern identities–and how in the process they run the risk of exploiting or sentimentalizing it. Given Mda’s life story, which is marked by all the major events of his country, one can see why he has such a keen interest in history.
This week, both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report–the only TV programs I never miss–went on hiatus, so Comedy Central has been doing re-runs. It’s been a small taste of what life will be like if members of the Writers’ Guild of America decide to go on strike. At Salon, Laura Miller reviews Marc Norman’s What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting and starts off with a few anecdotes about the contempt with which screenwriters are held in Hollywood, then reveals some of the uglier side of the business. All very interesting.
Many thanks to those readers who have emailed to ask about the fires. We are all fine here. This fire season very much reminds me of my last Indian summer in L.A., about 4 years ago. The sky was a dark pink color and it rained black ash throughout the day. It’s much the same now. It’s very hot, as you can imagine, and it’s a bit hard to breathe. But we’re alive, and we’ll get through this.
Photo by sundogg via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr.
The 11th annual Arab Film Festival is coming to Los Angeles in just a few days. You can see a line-up here. There are two movies about Morocco or by Moroccans: The documentary I Love Hip-Hop in Morocco, which follows H-Kayne, Fatima and Brown Fingaz as they set up a music festival, and the short film The Deceased. Be there!