Vultures & Refugees

To Africa for just a moment. Who knew that Chinua Achebe a) wrote more than just Things Fall Apart and b) wrote poems?! I have to admit I only knew in the wispiest possible way. It’s actually quite embarrassing to see from that Wiki article just how much there is to him beyond Okonkwo and his travails. Anyhow. Go to this page. Once you’re there, click on Chinua Achebe and check out his piece called The Vultures.

If I was critting it (ahem) my PFFA conditioning would make cutting remarks about the linebreaks and then suggest eliminating S3 as telly (and obscure & abstract at the same time — what does in the very germ/of that kindred love is/lodged the perpetuity/of evil mean?) But the image of those two revolting affectionate vultures in their dead tree has stuck with me all day. And I love these lines:


indeed how love in other

ways so particular

will pick a corner

in that charnel house

tidy it and coil up there, perhaps

even fall asleep

The other Achebe poem up there is Refugee Mother and Child. I’d cut S1 if I were in charge, but the rest is pretty strong stuff – it stays with you, too.And while you’re at the site, look at the Lenrie Peters (Parachute Men Say is great) and John Pepper Clark pieces. Skip the Okot p’Bitek – Song of Lawino Part MCMXVII, those read like. Talk about a stuck record.

Nizar Qabbani & wild similes/metaphors again

“Syrian diplomat and poet, one of the most popular love poets in the Arab world.”  Nizar Qabbani always gets introduced as a Syrian diplomat and poet. He is very popular with people like me because I can actually understand some of his stuff in the original Arabic. I have a collection of his poems – Arabian Love Poems, which is really cool, because it has English on one side, and Arabic on the other, in his handwriting.  Although the title always seemed to me a rather cheesy choice,  since Qabbani, as we know, was Syrian and not from the Arabian peninsula at all, but oh well. He died in London in 1998 and was flown back to Syria for burial. It was *huge* — like everything stopped to listen. Not as huge as when Umm Khaltoum died in 1975, maybe, but approaching that sort of a show-stopper. He says sweet unexpected things in his love poetry, like in one called “When I Love” he says:

the poems in my notebooks

become fields of mimosa and poppy


when I love
all the trees

run barefoot toward me…

Today, am quoting a few lines of one of his poems below, since it reminded me of that whole conversation I was having with my self about similes & metaphors in Solomon and Antara a day or two ago, recorded way down below here on June 23. (The complete Qabbani piece, along with some other NQ poems translated into English, is on this site.) So, speaking of similes in Solomon's song and Antara's poem, check this out:

When I Love You

by Nizar Qabbani

When I love you

A new language springs up,

New cities, new countries discovered.

The hours breathe like puppies,

Wheat grows between the pages of books,

Birds fly from your eyes with tiding of honey,

Caravans ride from your breasts carrying Indian herbs,

The mangoes fall all around, the forests catch fire

And Nubian drums beat.


When I love you your breasts shake off their shame,

Turn into lightning and thunder, a sword, a sandy storm.

What do you think? Neat-o, eh? Love it, personally.  

William Stafford

Today’s new poet (to me) is William Stafford and he's from Kansas! He was born in Hutchinson, KS, which is north of Wichita on the way to Denver (sorta) if you go up I-35 and take a left on Route 50. He also went to KU (yes, we know, a bas les Jayhawk), but lost no time, it would appear, in skittering out of there into Oregon. He died at Lake Oswego at the ripe old age of 79. Take a minute to look at these 17 poems by William Stafford.

Very wholesome and calm and Midwestern. Full of abstractions, which is what us apprentice poet-wannabes are always being beaten up about using, but I guess it’s OK in the hands of a master. Very nice reading, and don’t be fooled by the apparent ease of read. As says: “Stafford's poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost's, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination.”  Here is the one I liked best of those encountered so far:  

Lit Instructor

by William Stafford

Day after day up there beating my wings

with all the softness truth requires

I feel them shrug whenever I pause:

they class my voice among tentative things,


And they credit fact, force, battering.

I dance my way toward the family of knowing,

embracing stray error as a long-lost boy

and bringing him home with my fluttering.


Every quick feather asserts a just claim;

it bites like a saw into white pine.

I communicate right; but explain to the dean—

well, Right has a long and intricate name.


And the saying of it is a lonely thing.

Nice. Had something of a problem scanning the tetrameter in S2, but imagine he was going for that effect.

The Plot Against the Giant

I am struck today by a poem of  Wallace Stevens. Inconsiderate of him, a bit, to be one of those dead white males who have become so unpopular over the last few decades, but he is surely entitled to some kind of unpopularity waiver because a) he worked for an insurance company all the time he was writing his poems and b) he wrote Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and The Plot Against the Giant, which is the one I am struck by and which I shall transcribe here forthwith:

The Plot Against The Giant

by Wallace Stevens


First Girl

When this yokel comes maundering,

Whetting his hacker,

I shall run before him,

Diffusing the civilest odors

Out of geraniums and unsmelled flowers.

It will check him.


Second Girl

I shall run before him,

Arching cloths besprinkled with colors

As small as fish-eggs.

The threads

Will abash him.


Third Girl

Oh, la…le pauvre!

I shall run before him,

With a curious puffing.

He will bend his ear then.

I shall whisper

Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals.

It will undo him.

If I was critting it in a workshop, I might say, “What's with the caps at the beginning of each line, dude?” But not much else. We are all connected somehow to the world, through wires, probably, but Wallace Stevens’ wires just seem longer and thinner and much more imaginative and sensitive than anyone else’s, so most of us lump along a few feet above the surface of the earth, but he is floating away way up there in the stratosphere, and still totally connected. Like we’re frowning and snapping at each other because we’re having trouble deciphering tin-can-to-tin-can vibrations through a jute string and he’s got digital sound. Or something. *Gloom.* 

Antara & Solomon and wild similes & metaphors

A word about my favorite pre-Islamic Arabian hero, Antara. He was Galahad, Lochinvar and Launcelot rolled into one, except he went one better and was a poet warrior. His father, Shaddad, was a Bedouin tribal chieftain and his mother, Zabiba, was an Abyssinian slave. Since his mother was a slave, Antara’s father refused to acknowledge him and he grew up as a slave in the ‘Abs tribe. Eventually his prowess as a warrior forced his father to acknowledge him and to give him the hand of the beautiful ‘Abla in marriage. All very Chaucerian, with much ado about courtly love and gentillesse and that sort of thing.


Anyhow, one of Antara’s poems is among the Muallaqāt which are a group of seven pre-Islamic Arabic qasida (odes). The authors are among the most famous poets of the 6th century. The name means The Hanged Poems, and according to legend these poems were embroidered on cloth in letters of gold and were hung up on the Ka’aba at Mecca.

All of them are really really really difficult in Arabic – even native Arabic speakers can’t always make sense of them in Arabic, and I certainly can’t, but here’s Antara’s poem in Arabic and English if you’re interested.


The reason I’m waffling on about Antara’s poem is because I’ve been thinking about the similes & metaphors you seem to find in these ancient texts. Here’s a bit about Abla from Antara:


It was as though the musk bag of a merchant in his case of perfumes preceded her teeth toward you from her mouth.

Or as if it is an old wine-skin, from Azri’at, preserved long, such as the kings of Rome preserve;


Or her mouth is as an ungrazed meadow, whose herbage the rain has guaranteed, in which there is but little dung; and which is not marked with the feet of animals.


The first pure showers of every rain-cloud rained upon it, and left every puddle in it bright and round like a dirham;


I love the similes/metaphors he uses, they are so odd – no-one would ever ever come up with ones like that today. Now, check this out from the Song of Solomon (the King James Version, of course – can’t vouch for the poetic value of any other version). 

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s; eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.


Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.


Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.


Aren’t they just the same type of similes/metaphors?? Wild and out there. If we were still doing that today, we’d have to say things like: Your eyes are like an Olympic swimming pool built at Athens and your throat is like the east wing of the Guggenheim Museum. Or something

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