A new poem of mine is published today in Issue 1 of BAHR // بحر magazine, a great new, bilingual En/Ar magazine.
My poem, Prophecy & Prayers, is best read on a computer (or ‘Desktop View’) due to its formatting. A couple notes follow.
Form – English
Over the past 18 months I’ve experimented a lot in bringing an Arabic feel to my English poetry. I associate Arabic with water, with its flowing sentences running on like rivers, its shifting emotion pushing forward and backwards like the tide. Full-stops are foreign to Arabic, which at its most beautiful can have an almost ethereal quality. My very cleverly named ‘sea form’, is a type of free verse with some set rules. The margins represent the shore line, that is, solid ground and certainty. Indentation in the central column reflects the sea, where the main poem occurs, where thoughts shift like the sea’s waves. Words are sometimes shaped like objects, floating like flotsam and jetsam in the midst of the poem’s waters.
I’ve written a few of these (including a poem in the sea form detailing the form’s functions – something I developed in one of Apples and Snakes’ Red Sky Sessions earlier this year). This was the first poem with two margins, with both an English and an Arabic shoreline. I hope to be able to share more of these in time. In essence, this form is a structured stream of consciousness, but it works for me.
Knowing that, of course I had to submit to a magazine literally called Bahr! And I’m so happy that the editor accepted this submission.
Form – Arabic
I’ve been learning my buhoor, my Arabic meters this year. The Arabic lines are written in an attempted Al-Fa’izi, which is a local meter that came out of Al-Ahsa in the early 20th century. This meter was very popular in Eastern Arabia and Bahrain and specifically for Shi’a Hussayni poetry. I’m quite certain there are some minor mistakes and breaks in the meter, but I’m proud of this attempt. And I think something can be drawn emotively between the broken meter and the desperate plea within the poem.
The Arabic lines form a sort of prayer for the ancient Sumerian god Enki, more on that below. When I was choosing which meter to write in, Al-Fa’izi made the most sense. The poetic persona is pleading to the ancient, local deity, so what else would suit but a modern, local meter? And so, the Arabic is written in dialect, in particular the final line.
The Fa’izi meter goes (مستفعلن مستفعلن مستفعلاتن) and when I started learning my meters in earnest, I surprised myself by how easily this one came to me – a childhood unknowingly surrounded by the meter in ma’atim suddenly revealed its hidden meanings to me as an adult.
Notes on Meaning
The poem is an expression of my climate anxiety in the face of the neoliberal destruction of the Gulf’s environment. I’m haunted by the disappeared freshwater springs, which existed for millennia and have all but dried up in the span of a lifetime. Some 4000 years ago, Dilmun (ancient Bahrain) worshipped Enki, who was a god for humankind and of water.
In the Sumerian flood myth, Enlil, the lord of the gods, decides to flood the world because humanity’s noisiness was disturbing his peace and quiet. The gods are sworn to secrecy when the plan is hatched, but Enki saves humanity by warning the reed-walls of Ziusudra’s palace of the coming flood, in earshot of the lord. Ziusudra builds an ark and thus survives. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ziusudra resides in Dilmun, an immortal being, and Gilgamesh dives into a secret sea-beneath-the-sea in search of a plant that will return him to his youth.
This sea-beneath-the-sea is instantly recognisable for a Bahraini/Khaleeji: pockets of freshwater burble beneath the sea, and in the past sailors would use these freshwater channels to keep stocked on water.
And so, here is a desperate plea, in the face of impending civilisational doom, brought on by noisy and destructive neoliberalism, for Enki to rescue us once more…
I hope you enjoy.