I Am Not Ashamed of Tears

 

 

By Richard Oduor Oduku

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

Thirsty

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

Beginning

 

24 Nov,2015

http://wawabookreview.com/2015/11/24/i-am-not-ashamed-of-tears/