domenica 15 giugno 2014

Naim Araidi - Songs of Galilee, Seam Editions

Naim Araidi with students in Brescia
It always is difficult to introduce a poet who writes in a different language than ours.  The author of the book in your hands, Naim Araidi, writes in Arabic and in Hebrew. But, since we have learnt to recognise the nuances and the warmth inherent to the writing of many Arab poets who have been invited to the Nisan Festival—a festival originated by Naim Araidi in 1999 during the second Intifada—Beppe Costa and I have decided to publish this volume and to run the risk of translating the works also from English and French.
The difficulties of life are expressed in many of these poems together with how these problems comprehensibly influence the poets’ emotions and writings. Therefore we have a golden opportunity to focus on this point; in fact, Naim Araidi was born in Galilee and he wears the wounds his homeland has suffered, as covered by Italian and foreign newspapers for decades
One of his most loved poems (Songs of Galilee) is also the title of this collection and it is quite evident to what extent the love for his homeland is deeply-rooted: 

"[...] I drew two wings to fly, I flew
Galilee followed me in a place
called Mghar,
I fell on the head to be born
crying tears from the heart
with a great shout
that cuts through all eternity. [...] "

These verses are very similar to the stories that our elders tell their young grandchildren; Galilee is the protagonist, as if it were a young creature unaware of its future.  Naim reminisces about the origins of this place, associating them with his own and narrating it all as if it were an old-fashioned fairy tale:

"[...] An ancestor came from Lebanon, a prince,
so the story goes, he kissed the land of Galilee
until his lips were
full of foam.

I asked, where is the lake of Galilee?
Someone said that it walked on the earth,
for this Mary Magdalene has sinned
and argued the contrary. [...]"

Naim Araidi in Maghar
This collection of poems, translated into the Italian language for the first time, conveys in its title a world ready to be discovered: whether one has first-hand accounts of those lands or, at the very least, some understanding of Arab culture.  In fact the art of dialogue is deeply-rooted in this book.  With few words, Naim succeeds in expressing the concept including the trials and tribulations that are still unsettled despite the fact that one hundred years have passed, and yet the Poet requires only a few verses to explain this world to souls who are capable of listening to poetic echoes, to the extent of hinting at a possible solution to the evils of this land, so one is left wondering if man is really so stupid as to cause wars, as much as he is intelligent enough to rebuild a peaceful world out of the remaining debris.
Just as if the Arab culture were the bearer of a form of superior knowledge, thus being condemned to suffer internal conflicts, in this collection of poems a certain awareness is sensed, perhaps one of a superior nature, which is at least different from the one that our Western society has made us become accustomed to. We pursue material and earthly things, sometimes without taking into consideration our being and its meaning.  After all, we find answers to age-old existential questions in religion, we are guilty of having created movements that are harmful for Man himself:

"When I sat down to rest
they said:
poetry is behind you
and the science in front
between them
your heart is torn. [...]"

This oriental-style book conveys a breath of philosophy together with biblical references, as if it were intended to teach Man about his own origins in order to remind him of himself and what he could possibly be, if only he could recover part of his past that is filled with so many details concealed behind every single word.  I would even go as far as to say this is typical of how Arab culture surpasses us without us even noticing, as they always seem to have an extra gear:

"Every time I see you freeze the light between us,
generation gap,
preventing the rebirth of my youth
This is the secret that separates us. [...]"

Naim with Leonard Cohen in Oslo
An extra gear that, perhaps, even betrays itself by posing questions that today still give rise to debates in which the popular opinion is alarmingly divided, generating contrasting movements that are ready to sacrifice themselves just to allow their spirit to live on. 
There is much more to be found in this short collection of poems.  How can one possibly introduce a book of poems that holds the history of both ancient and contemporary Arab culture?
I really do not know, but it is a golden opportunity to try to understand that Man can choose to put together the good things he manages to find, regardless of the language he speaks and the colour of his skin, in this way creating a more aware Nietzschean “Übermensch,” worthy of the intelligence and the potential that Mother Nature, or whoever else, has given him.  Thus facing these values and confirming that this time they are right, absolute and just, without the slightest danger of repeating past mistakes that history is always ready to remind us of.
To conclude, I would like to point out that this book has been published as part of the memorable collection formerly issued by Pellicanolibri, which included authors such as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Fernando Arrabal— all published for the first time in Italian—or forgotten ones such as Anna Maria Ortese, Goliarda Sapienza, and Dario Bellezza, as well as extremely famous writers such as Alberto Moravia.  Quality and prestige perhaps have little to do with popularity.

                                                                                                                   Stefania Battistella
(translation Alessandra Bava)

Songs of Galilee

Tonight Galilee was sleeping on my lover’s breast
dreaming of exiled childhood,
nesting in Harmon’s beard.
A knight came from the east for the hatching,
the eggs cracked slowly,
a city emerged, to be called Safad.

My lover awoke from her Galilee sleep,
childhood grew up
to become without number.

An ancestor came from Lebanon, a prince,
so the story goes, he kissed the earth of Galilee
till his lips were full of foam.

I asked, Where is the lake of Galilee?
Somebody said it walked upon the earth,
because Mary Magdalene sinned
and claimed she never did.

I leant upon an oak tree
near the shore of the lake.
Suddenly a devil brought up a great chest
and a lovely mermaid came out of it
to turn the devil human
and the king into a slave.

I bowed down, calling on the name of God,
panicking, till my mouth became so dry
I don’t know whether the river of baptism
will water it
or whether by thunder and lightning
the sky will save me.

I drew two wings for myself and flew,
Galilee followed me to a place called Mghar,
I fell on my head to be born
crying from my heart
a great shriek that cut eternity.

In that place I grew up and loved
and married two wives by the law of God:
I didn’t want to have any more
just for my own sake.

Then a witness spoke about new rules
in addition to avoiding pork and alcohol:
now bigamy is forbidden in Galilee
and taking many lovers is forbidden in Mount Carmel.

But I did divorce:
I said to myself, Go away,
I separated from myself
Because I believe in love and poetry and dream.

My mother remembers

My mother remembers things from the past
things she fears for
and the past lies more than imagination
her face expressions don’t show her age
but reveal her feelings about what I missed
and about the present filled with contradictions
when I was young things weren’t as my mother
told me
Beauty was everywhere
I could feel a distant smell of fruits
grapes were sweet, figs were true
aloe... my eyes.
people’s deeds were good
pitiful, fearful,
I look deep into her eyes
maybe she could drift my fears away from my memory
but she never does
the past is the past
it never came back and will never do
I say this to avoid a possible conflict between the past that
belongs to my mother,
and the past that belongs to me

Many people will hasten

Many people will hasten
and I will be among them
a man that brings poetry
to men.
Their swords and their plows
are ready
and they only brought their sickles
and psalm at times
and I will be among them
a man that brings poetry
to men.
Enemies become friends
like the horse of a good knight
Soldiers killed in the war
are martyrs,
and those who live in peace
live thanks to those who died
But poets remain poets in life or death,
and I will be among them
a man who brings poetry
to men.
The violin has no ardor
away from the hands of men,
and when it kindles in the summer, even a stone
has a soul and perhaps blood.  
It is human to err
man enrages, distresses, and insults
once the storm has passed, he forgets
and apologizes for everything.
A melodic cloud plays
and I am in that sound
a man who brings poetry
to men.
Jerusalem above is over all
Jerusalem from below is upon the earth
Take the only one you have loved
I take mine
Let’s meet halfway
between heaven and earth
and many people will hasten
and I will bring poetry
to men.
(translation by Karen Costa and Stefania Battistella)

Poems drawn from Songs of Galilee, Seam Editions.

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