Sunday, December 02, 2012

There was in Qatar an old emir, who put a poet in the slammer...

There are some things up with which the Emir of Qatar will not put

Satiric poetry, for example.

A 37-year-old Qatari poet was sent to prison for reciting a poem at an in-home reading that satirizes the Emir of Qatar and his son, the crown prince. The poem then was posted online by someone who had attended the reading. The poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, has spent most of the past year in solitary confinement without books or pen or computer or contact with his family.

I learned about this through my pals at the Montana blog, 4&20 Blackbirds. Lizard writes the blog's Liz's Weekly Poetry Series. This is fitting, as 4&20 Blackbirds comes from the land of Richard Hugo and Sandra Alcosser and Henry Real Bird and Jim Welch (poet and novelist) and John Haines and Wyoming transplant B.J. Buckley. MT knows its poets.

Traditional Arabic poetry praises the monarch, according to a BBC story. That's a bummer. Monarchs should be ridiculed, and often, as should presidents, legislators, poets, and just about anyone else in public roles. Said the BBC:
A key part of the evidence against the poet was near-identical testimony submitted by three government poetry experts at the ministries of culture and education, asserting that the poem al-Ajami had written was indeed insulting to the emir and his son.
Part of my job with the Wyoming Arts Council is to serve as a government poetry expert. I wonder if I could ever be called to testify about whether a poem funded by a state grant or fellowship was insulting to the governor or his wife or son or daughter. What would I say? What could I say? What should I say? Would I go to prison to defend a poet or writer who also might go to the Wyoming gulag?

Mohammed al-Ajami is not the first poet to go to prison for his work. Sometimes poets are tortured and killed for speaking ill of despots. Spain's Federico Garcia Lorca and Miguel Hernandez come to mind.

Here's Emily Dickinson's poem on the subject:
The Martyr Poets — did not tell —
But wrought their Pang in syllable —
That when their mortal name be numb —
Their mortal fate — encourage Some —

The Martyr Painters — never spoke —
Bequeathing — rather — to their Work —
That when their conscious fingers cease —
Some seek in Art — the Art of Peace —
Lizard writes that she's been looking online for a copy of al-Ajami's poem but has been unsuccessful. Anyone know where we could find it?

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