Baradouni: Traditional Modernity! [Archives:1999/41/Culture]

October 11 1999

During an annual poetry festival in Baghdad twenety-eight years ago a short, blind and humble- looking man was given the podium to recite his poems, like the hundred of other poets from all over the Arab world who take turns over four or five days to recite their poems. The audience had already grown weary and tired of the tens of poems that hardly demanded attention. The elderly blind poet gave all the impression that he was going to be even worse. As the Yemei poet recited his first line, he almost confirmed people’s fears. But as the lines started flowing one strike after another, heads started turning and silence pervaded the auditorium.
The traditional structure and the unfamiliarity of accent gave way to the power of imagery and words which took almost everyone by surprise. Al-Baraddouni (1929- 1999) was singing the suffering of his homeland, of the ancient city of Sana’a, which under the impact of poverty and neglect has grown like a beautiful lady ruined by the diseases of mange and consumption, two diseases that stood typical of poor and underdeveloped communinies. The impact of the Yemeni poet’s poem was one of those occasions that happen once in a century. He was immediately established as a major poet in whose importance and long neglect the Arab audience, the literati in particular, discovered their ignorance. An especially amazing part of the event was in the fact that Al-Bessouni used a traditional form which had fallen into disrepute under the new aesthetics of modernism where free verse is more valued. What astonished everyone was his ability to use that traditional form mixed with a highly mokernized language and imagery. The following image might suggest the combination: “As the clouds squeeze their breasts, walls send a downpour of silence and weariness/Shadows fall upon shadows like flies which fall on boredom.” Another example might be more telling, as it combines the poet’s tragic vision with an ironic acceptance of his country’s plight. It is from a piece entitled “Sana’a in a plane” in which he pictures the city as a lady travelling beside him and sharing his tragedies. As he start painting their suffering the lady begins crying. Admonishingly he says to her that cryin will, be useless: “The one beside us will start looking at you, but woll immediately forget you when the waitress passes. Then another nice man or a nice lod lady, will gine you two tablets of Aspirin. “people will give assistance to Sana’a that will only remind her of her of her deepening poverty. Al-Baraddouni left about ten collections of poems and five books of essays and strdies. So far at least two books have been written about him, and he won several prizes including the major prize of the Baghdad festival which launched his career in the Arab world. When he died a couple of weeks ago, he was remembered as perhaps the most eminent poet in the Arabian peninsula in modern times.
Quoted from Riadh Daily
Dr. Saad Al-Bazee