Sunday, March 11, 2007

"of woman torn"

of woman torn
by Suheir Hammad

did her skin smell
of zaatar her hair of
exploded almonds
between the olive trees
her father lit the match brothers poured the flammable
the women they watched the women they tucked
their sex away under
skirts under secrets

in this world of
men and molotovs

family pride laid
between her thighs
honor in her panties
and no oslo accord
or camp david signing
could free her sex
from its binding

i can only pray light
a candle and hope
you were not raped
he was not rough
a relative a drunk stranger

i can only hope you were
loved once in his
arms that he touched you right
where you needed
often as you
wanted whispered loving
i hope he was sincere

where is he now

where was he when they found the swelling
of your belly proof of humanity
where was he when they stuck fists up
inside you to prove you loose

when they beat you blue
ripped each hair out your head
each one by one in the name
of god and land spit on you and
cursed the evil that is

palestine's daughter
love making can be as dangerous
as curfews broken
guerillas hidden

you join now those who won't leave
the earth haunt my
sleep who watch my
back whenever i lay
the forced suicides the
dowry deaths and

decapitated by
her father on her forbidden
honeymoon he paraded
her head through
cairo to prove his
manhood this is 1997

and i can only hope
you had a special song a
poem memorized a secret
that made you smile

this is a love
poem cause i love
you now woman
who lived tried to
love in this world of
machetes and sin

i smell your ashes
of zaatar and almonds
under my skin
i carry your bones


With apologies to Dreamer Idiot & co. for my long hiatus from this blog, I break fast with a belated International Women's Day (March 8) tribute. Personally, I think that like all designated days, IWD carries much more meaning if it is observed as a time for thought, reflection and an understanding not just of how far we've come but how far we've yet to go, than if it is celebrated superficially with no regard for our many realities.

So as much as I would have liked to tell you to take a cue from Maya Angelou and jump up and "dance like [you] have diamonds at the meeting of [your] thighs", I thought it might be more interesting to remind you just why that ought to be such a hell of a celebration, and in spite of what.

Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American poet and spoken word artist -- and a tremendously good one in terms of the latter (she won a Tony award for her stint on Def Poetry Jam). Having been a fan of her performance style, particularly this powerful rendering of being Arab and American in the aftermath of 9-11, when I came across this poem, I could literally hear her reading it aloud in my head. Searches for videos or voice recordings of Hammad reading "of woman torn" turned up nothing, sadly.

Discussing this intense and heartbreaking poem as a piece of writing is difficult because I see it, or hear it rather, quite unequivocally as a performance. Something to be listened to, something to be told. This is not to say that Hammad falls short of word-wise brilliance, but the rhythm inherent in her words lends itself so fittingly to an aural approach. This rhythm is achieved not just by the use of alliteration, but lists also: short lists of atrocities, events, peace accords, transgressions, secret pleasures, etc, which one imagines delivered with a breathless, machine gunfire rapidness. The rejection of conventional punctuation and syntax serve to heighten this effect -- that it's some instinctive rhythm that drives the flow of the words, not one on paper.

Spoken word is taking off in huge way here in KL, and I honestly feel that that's not a premature assertion, based particularly on the last few poetry events I've been to or been involved in here. But there is something which I am uncomfortable saying, but may as well given this opportunity: it's easy enough to put on a show. But sound is just sound until it has soul.

And if the test for every poet behind the mic is channeling not just loudness but also love, and all that emerges rooted in it however dark or light, then Suheir Hammad passes with ultrasonic resonance.

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Blogger dreameridiot said...

Wow, a very strong poem intermingled with anger and pain at the abuses against women. I see why you describe the the poem's breaking of 'natural' rhythm adds forcefulness to it, as readers are made to stop and enunciate the key words.

Honour killings and violence is still a big problem today, and as you suggest, one that is so difficult to eradicate. This is indeed a very important poem, one that deserve reflecting on, remembering those under its yoke.


9:56 PM, March 12, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

it's easy enough to put on a show. But sound is just sound until it has soul.

how well said, sharanya, and i'm with you on that 100% when you talk about performance poetry. (i tried to say something similar when i wrote about last saturday's food foundry gig) when i talked about what had touched the poets so it could touch us.

this poem was very well chosen for international woman's day and is extremely powerful

one woman ... who represents all the women who die in similar circumstances. this could have taken place in any number of countries where women are treated like chattels and men exact honour killings. actually found it almost too painful to read.

agree with you that the poem needs to be heard aloud, and hope readers will try it on their own tongues to get the music

7:12 AM, March 15, 2007  

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