Friday, April 19, 2024

I Am Not Ashamed of Tears


By Richard Oduor Oduku

  • Title: Let’s rain
  • Author: Fatiha Morchid
  • Publisher: Marsam
  • Number of pages: 86
  • Year of publication: 2014
  • Category: Poetry

Fatiha Morchid’s Let’s rain is a volume of meditative and aphoristic poems about ecstasy, longing, love and pain. Morchid is a poet, writer, and a paediatrician. She is the winner of the 2010 Moroccan Poetry Prize. The poems in Let’s rain were originally written in Arabic and have been translated into English by Norddine Zouitni. From the first poem, ‘Let’s rain’, to the last poem, ‘Things of essence’, the feeling is one of free-flow. With simplicity and directness, the poet ensures that the actuality of poetry is not lost in a mass of intellectual abstractions. The poems speak to the reader in a voice that is soft, elastic, and rubbery – an intoxication one struggles to break away from.

From ‘Let’s rain’ (p 8), we hear:

My passion for rain
Frightens you
You who are eternally
For drops of dew

That you
Secretly sip
From the forgotten
Dawn buds
Wiping your lips
With one palm
While the other
Holds thorns

The pages of Let’s rain are divided into two columns carrying the Arabic originals and the English translations side by side. The richness of the English creates the impression that one may be missing out on the flavours steaming from the Arabic originals.

The Arabic language has often been called the language of the poets, and Arabs themselves consider poetry the essence of Arabic – dīwān al-Arab. This is of course indisputable. Arabs have a rich literary heritage flowing from the classical era – with strict metrical rules and adherence to fixed rhyme schemes – to the renaissance, al-nahda; to the contemporary era where Arabic poets began breaking free from qasīda. Arabic poetry in the contemporary period is conventionally divided into neo-classic, romantic, and modern. Morchid’s poetry is modern Arabic poetry. It is characterised by free verse.

The passion and profundity in Let’s rain reminds one the Persian mystic and dervish, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, known popularly as Rumi. One imagines Morchid also whirling while composing. One imagines that there is perhaps a silent music accompanying the text: the music of ocean waters lapping against the edges of a cliff. But Rumi is a poet of joy and love. Morchid paints agonising neediness in intimate, subtle, and sensuous tones:

You search underneath my shirt
For the smell of your childhood

I search
Between your lips
For a poem
That looks like me (p 10).

In Understanding Poetry, James Reeves says, ‘Poetry, like life itself, depends on a balance between the intellect and the senses, the mind and the body, thought and action’, and that in the best poetry, it is the sensuous element which predominates. If ideas in a poem are presented in the absence of concrete and sensuously realised imagery, then the poem begins to lean towards versified philosophy or metaphysics, and risks losing its physicality. Throughout the collection, Morchid maintains a balance between physicality and sensuousness. Nowhere is this exemplified like in the ‘Tremor of Carnation’ (p 71):

The tremor of carnation
Tempts you
You close your eyes
Whenever the breeze lifts
The tail of my dress
And the white of my leg

Though translated, the poems do not lose their rhythm. The lines are perfectly natural, conversational, and the movement is not forced. The language is visual, yet economical. In ‘Teach me the night’ (p 38), repetition of the first line, ‘Teach me the night’, in the six stanzas accentuates the privation, the longing for attachment, and the despair to be made whole on one hand, while on the other it depicts comfort, safety, and satisfaction.

Teach me the night
So that I dance with ghosts
That terrify me
And sleep
On the fatigue

Teach me the night
So that I set up of my nightdress
A throne for you
And fall asleep
At your feet

The whole idea of being a poet is to be a worshipper of beauty, not only of forms but of language itself – because poetry is language. Like James Reeves says, ‘It may contain ideas, but it is not ideas. It may tell a story, but it is not stories. It may express the whole range of human emotion, but unless its language is vital, fresh and surprising, those emotions will be blurred and ineffectual’. In ‘Something like eagerness’ (p 41) we find:

We lost
Something like eagerness

When the trees of silence
Grew thick
Between us
And we avoided
Pruning the branches

In the New Enlarged Pocket Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems, Louis Untermeyer talks of a poetry that never pretends, a poetry of conversations, a poetry that is the language of things as well as thoughts. Such a description can also be used to shed light on Fatiha Morchid’s collection. In ‘The return train’ (p 50) the suspirations of despair return, and we are exposed once again to the vitality of language – unpretentious in its portrayal of the state of the soul, yet graphic and picturesque – in painting forlornness:

This train
Returning me
From the womb of your tenderness
The closer it gets
The farther it takes me away
From myself

There are connections, links, running through the poems, fruitful labour for patient readers. Moving from page to page, without skipping, opens a door of discovery into the miraculous talent that lies within the covers of the thin volume. It is always a secret delight when a poem has that electric effect, the feeling of sensing the page when you read it, because the power of art rises from that response, and it kills preconceived notions and biases we may have carried to our reading. This is not to say that we arrive at poems as blank slates, but rather, beautiful poetry frees us from our own prejudice prisons and educated know-it-all attitudes, and allows us to experience poems without too much interference from our own constraints. In ‘Let’s rain’ (p 23) we are drawn to openness and vulnerability, in its naked splendour:

And you ask me
To gamble a part of me
So I gain myself

Like a Sun
Eloquent in its silence
I love my weakness
And I’m not ashamed of tears

Making an acquaintance with a new poem is an involved experience; in the sense that, poetry is a communication which invites the reader to enter into a relationship. The relationship takes work and needs preparation, but it is a relationship that might last for a lifetime. While Fatiha Morchid’s poems are deceptively simple, raw and minimalist, and do not exist to make a point, build theory, or align with conventions, the relationship a reader creates with the poems is an eventful experience.

Morchid’s collection is unaffected by politics. There are no tropes of national histories. There are no references to great figures, events in history, or features in Morocco that can help the reader to understand the kind of sensibilities that went into the making of the poems. Nonetheless, it is the coherence of a poem and its unity in expressing a single idea with great imagination and insight that stirs a reader. Again, the lack of a concrete identity or historical context in these poems does not mitigate the message. In fact, it confers on them a high degree of universality, for situations in the poems are a reflection of the common experiences of people across boundaries and cultures. This universality is reflected in the philosophical musing in the last stanza in the volume:

Each beginning
Is a poem
And each end
Is a possible

Photograph: ‘Sunset’, by A. A. O’Carroll

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Richard Oduor Oduku
Richard Oduor Oduku
Richard Oduor Oduku (@RichieMaccs) is a poet and writer. He studied Biomedical Science and Technology and works in Nairobi. He is a Founding member of Jalada Africa and HisiaZangu and has published in Kwani? Jalada Africa, Saraba Magazine, Storymoja among others. He also contributes to the Star Newspaper.

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