Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Poets of Guantánamo

The great thing about poetry is the way it gives a voice to the voiceless and disenfranchised, expresses the deepest of hurts, and helps to heal them.

A collection of poems written by the prisoners of Guantánamo prisoners' poems was launched in the UK a few days ago, the Guardian reports. (The US launch was in August.)

Poems From Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak brings together poems written by 17 of the detainees, collected American law professor Professor Marc Falkoff,who has represented them.

The poems were written with no expectation of an audience beyond the other inmates - some of them carved with pebbles on styrofoam cups, to be passed around and read, and then confiscated when the plates were collected.

Many of the featured poets were writing for the first time, although according to an article on SFGate.com Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost was already a respected religious scholar, poet, journalist and author of 19 published books before his arrest about a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. He recreated his "cup poems" from memory after his release in 2005.

His brother and former fellow Guantanamo inmate Badruzamman Badr said in an interview :
Poetry was our support and psychological uplift. Many people have lost their minds there. I know 40 or 50 prisoners who are mad. But we took refuge in our minds.
Dost is himself amazingly positive about his time in Guantánamo:
The positives have outweighed the negatives ... I was not unhappy for being detained because I learned a lot. I wrote from the core of my heart in Guantanamo Bay. In the outside world I could not have written such things.
So how good is the book? Megan O' Rourke writing for Slate.com says the book is distinctive for a number of reasons:
First, because it is a collection of writers, it drives home the plurality of experience and attitudes of those incarcerated, pushing back against the tendency to view them as interchangeable "enemy combatants." Second, because many of the authors are still being held in Guantanamo, it serves as testimony in an ongoing debate over the rights of foreign citizens who have been labeled dangers to the United States. Third, poetry proves to be an ideal way for these authors to convey the frustrations of imprisonment. The supple restrictions of the form lend intensity to their despair (or fury) at being imprisoned without habeas corpus on a remote island. ... What makes it interesting is not so much the literary virtues of the poems—some are quite artful, while others are less accomplished—as the way the poems restore individuality to those who have been dehumanized and vilified in the eyes of the public.
And US former poet laureate, Robert Pinsky assesses the collection at The World.org pointing out that it's greatest quality is its urgency.

You can listen to some of the poems on the University of Iowa website and find links to more reviews and discussion about the treatment of detainees.

Of course, if you care about the issue of detainment without trial in general terms, the Amnesty International website provides useful information. Because who knows, it could be coming to a country near you!

(Picture at right from the New York Times.)


dreamer idiot said...

Wow... thanks for sharing this. It's both tragic and maddening that all are locked up without trial - not all are innocent, off course, but for those who are... well, it's a testament to the crazy times we live in. This post is a good reminder of the 'freedoms' we still have, and of the humanizing power of poetry, and self-expression.

bibliobibuli said...

innocent or guilty of what? if you aren't charged who can say??

poetry is so good for you, doctors should prescribe it.

Anonymous said...

You and most of your readers have probably seen this, Sharon, but I wanted to share just in case:


-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

thanks very much. i hadn't seen it before and there is some very good poetry