Friday, February 4, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Unacknowledged Legislators of Mankind

Marilyn Singer will be one of the panelists tomorrow at a program at the New York Public Library called "A Passel of Poets: Children's Poetry in the Modern Age." One of the questions librarian Betsy Bird asks is "Does poetry for kids ever truly get its due?' I actually think it does; if not publicly, then in the hearts and minds of the readers. Certainly that was true for this reader of poetry.

Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. Here's an acknowledgment of poetry for a Friday night by way of Kurt Anderson and his radio program Studio 360. Anderson interviewed Palestinian poet Tamim Al-Bargouthi on NPR earlier this week. Al-Bargouthi, previously unknown to this blogger, is a poet who came to the world's attention with his poem "In Jerusalem." His father is Palestinian; his mother Egyptian.

Al-Bargouthi is not in Cairo right now, though from Kurt Anderson's interview it sounds as if he longs to be there. But his contribution has been felt. He wrote a poem about the revolution in Egypt, and faxed it to his newspaper in Cairo. According to Studio 360, when the paper published it, the text was photocopied and distributed among the people risking their lives in Tahrir Square. Al-Bargouthi's image was somehow broadcast "every ten minutes" on sheets pinned up by the people calling for Mubarak's ouster in Cairo. In a revolution, poetry is worth dying for.

This is a transcription of Al-Bargouthi's very rough and off-the-cuff translation on Anderson's radio show. I don’t have any Arabic, so I can neither read nor transcribe his words. I wish I could. But even in this unpoetic translation, the poetry speaks for itself.

O Egypt, It’s Close

We’re close, it’s going to be a good day,

Nothing remains of power but a few batons,

If you don’t believe it, just come to the Square and see.

The tyrant only exists in the imagination of his subjects,

Even those who stays at home after this will be free.