Dark Poetry. A Guilty Memory

It was the anniversary of 9/11 yesterday. The Press, TV and the Internet were all full of it. It was impossible to escape. So I cast my mind back for a few moments to those frantic images we had first seen on our TV screens all those years ago. And what I discovered was unexpected: a shameful and guilty memory of which I’d been wholly unaware.

Let me explain. In the days prior to September 11, I had been reading the works of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. His book of poetry, “Poet in New York”, had been a violent response to the New York he encountered as a student at Columbia University in 1929 and 1930. Lorca was passionate in his dislike for New York: its brutality, loneliness, poverty, inequalities and insane pride had all disturbed him. Abandoning his usual lyrical style, Lorca’s reaction was a series of experimental poems expressing, in no uncertain terms, his tortured feelings of dislocation from his beloved Andalusia, and his hatred of the city in which he now found himself:

“I denounce them all….,
the half who can’t be redeemed,
who raise their mountains of cement
where human hearts should beat
inside living beings;
and where all of us will perish
in a final frenzy of pneumatic drills.
I spit in all your faces…
I denounce your conspiracy
of deserted offices
that give no hope of ecstasy,
and erase forever all trace of the forest….

In part, the poet’s bitterness and hostility were due to his own sense of loneliness and distance from his family in Spain. So in truth, the city he railed against could easily have been any large metropolis in North America, not just New York. Lorca was especially incensed by what he saw as the “loss of soul” this heartless city had engendered in its population: its worship of profit and greed. Lorca was nothing if not passionate! And his reaction was violent, his images – those of destruction and apocalyptic revenge. Nothing could satisfy his mind but an image of the destruction of New York, that symbol (he believed) of all that was wrong with the modern world:

“..scream in front of the domes!
scream as if all the nights converged!
scream with such a heart-rending voice
that cities tremble like little girls
and demolish the prisons of oil and sound.
Because we demand our daily bread
we demand alder in bloom, and constantly-harvested tenderness.
Because we demand that the earth”s will be done,
and its fruits offered to everyone…”
(Call from the Tower of the Chrysler Building)

These were the kinds of poems I was reading in the days prior to September 11. As I watched the planes penetrating the World Trade Centre a day later, I confess that for a moment (a spit-second), something ran in me like intoxication. I was feeling exhilarated. Inexplicably, it seemed as if some great weight had been removed from my neck, relieving me, freeing me! In that brief moment, I felt that the World Trade Centre had been destroyed because of its pride, its arrogance and its usury. It was a modern-day Tower of Babel (two towers even, surpassing the original!) destroyed by the hand of God! I was complicit in its destruction. Was I excited? I confess: I think I was! A line from Lorca even echoed in my mind (I may even have whispered it): “Oh savage, shameless, North America!”

The whole experience lasted only a moment (a millisecond even); though it seems longer in retrospect. I quickly came to my senses: became conscious of the reality – the twisted metal, the carnage, couples jumping from windows (hands clasped together in a confused amalgam of love and fear). What had I done! I felt ashamed and uneasy with myself. For a little while, I tried to rationalize my feelings: I tried to blame the poetry of Lorca for seducing me with its images and lyrics, (because I had never been to New York; it was a mythical city for me).

But it was not the poetry; it was not Lorca. It was something in me (perhaps something in all of us) that rejoices when great catastrophes occur: some demonic, inhuman joy takes possession of us then turning us into a tangle of primitive, mindless, nerve reactions. When Fire, Deluge, Death strike on so grand a scale we feel ourselves to be demons too, working alongside them, toiling to relieve the earth of its houses and its populations, its cities and its technologies, seeking to restore the earth once more to its original, pristine purity; erasing all trace for ever of man and his works. I suspect that even the gentle Basho may have had somesuch similar thought when he wrote:

“When the house is burned down
You own a better view
Of the rising moon”

So now, when I hear people talking about the War on Terrorism, I know they are talking about me: a war against the wild, scarred, mountainous, barren areas of my soul that cannot be bombed by “daisy-cutter bombs” or infiltrated with United Nations Special Forces. It is a war I can only declare on myself. I know that the war against terrorism begins here in the heart and not in some distant country about which we know nothing but poetry and fairy tales. But I also suspect that the rhetoric to justify and continue the war is another persuasive kind of Dark Poetry.

F. Garcia Lorca. Poet in New York. Penguin. 1988 (Transl. by Christopher
Maurer) ISBN 0-14-018467-8

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

Recipient Of The Serena Shim Award

Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!