When someone recites poetry without palm-cards, it’s hard to restrain my admiration. It’s a charismatic act, one that relies very little upon the natural charm of the orator. You could be the sports fan at a goth-bar, or the Tory MP in a union meeting, and reciting something topical from memory would still bring down the house.
I’ve been trying to overcome my extremely poor head for lyrics by memorising poetry. It hasn’t gone well. In part, I blame a lack of natural talent – my good friend Andrew Stojanovski recites an outback lyric with such clarity and such an honest tone that you’ll forget your own skin; then he’ll shrug into his beer and say ‘Anyone can do it!’ My other oft-repeated excuse is that I haven’t been naturally drawn to poetry in the past. Visit the house of Jeff Thompson (of Jason Recliner fame) and he’s as likely to pluck a volume of John Donne from his well-stocked library as he is to put Ry Cooder on the vinyl player.
Well, I’m the first to redirect the former charge away from someone else’s talent to my own laziness. But the latter has resisted all sorts of efforts – Jeff’s library, Allen Ginsberg’s collection in the bathroom, a few New Year’s resolutions. I always believed in the back of my mind that the right poet would shake that hoodoo. I think I’ve found him, or he’s found me.
He writes under the unlikely moniker of Adonis. He’s not new; apparently, to the Arab speaking word he’s as familiar as Wordsworth. Everyone in the Arabic-speaking world has studied him, or feels a little guilty when admitting to not having read him. So I have been led to believe by the foreword to a newish collection translated by Khaled Mattawa.
I forget how I stumbled across it, but I know he’s the right one for me because I keep finding lines of his wrestling against my habitual phrases. When I tell my usual Millenial woes of indecision and the tyranny of opportunity, it has started to come out, “I thirst for an hour/ for which I would bet all my days.”
Everyone is getting married, and I want to read for them:
She holds my fingers and stares
rummages through caves,
Won’t you laugh, won’t you frown?
Won’t you whisper?
This is my hand, take it,
take my tomorrow.
And I am reminded daily of this extract, as the endless articles and must-reads fill my day like water flooding in to drown Batman:
An impulse makes me wonder, was this new companionship a celebration of childhood or a desire to celebrate it? Was it a way to tap into the imagination of our ancestors hoping for more than the poetry they left behind? Perhaps I longed to attach myself to the body of the alphabet, as it had been imagined by that wrongheaded Phoenician who invented it and suffered the consequences of his invention. I say wrongheaded, and I ask him across the distances that separate us and unite us, why did you not let us write with the bodies of things, the things themselves, and not these letters steeped in abstraction? Isn’t matter closer to man’s nature, more deserving and expressive than these signs and symbols? And can you prove, that you and your offspring who improvised upon your invention in this city of Beirut, that the writer who inscribes letters and words and writes in bundles is more reasonable and understanding than another who only sings words and runs them between his lips? You yourself can see that those who took up your invention made a swamp of the world with noises that pollute everything, while the other transformed sounds into musical chords where the voices rising from the throats of nature intermingle and soar.
Perhaps he won’t be your poet, but there’s every chance he could be. Have a look at this free extract I found somewhere or other. Or forget the written word for a day and speak to somebody.