I receive a poem by email every morning. I don’t always read them. Some days poetry seems like a frill. Or maybe it’s just the wrong poem, at the wrong moment.
But today I received the right poem at precisely the right moment. I don’t mean I immediately understood it, or that I swallowed it whole, as I sometimes do with a poem. I mean it moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It made me aware of things I wasn’t aware of, and deepened my awareness where I hadn’t been aware enough before. I suspect this poem will needle me all day, or, as Cynthia Bourgeault would say it, that I will ruminate it all day. Not ruminate on it, but chew it, like this fellow traveller ruminates.
To understand where I’ve been this morning, start by reading the poem. You can read it here, or here:
If you read it here on my blog without following the link, you’ll have read it as I did, without first reading the title, and you may feel, as I felt, that the poem vehemently rejected you because you tried to read it from left to right, as in English. But it was written in the form of The Arabic, as invented by Marwa Helal, and as she explains here, this form is meant to be read from right to left, as in Arabic.
The Palestinian American poet George Abraham wrote the poem I received this morning. Here is the title I missed at first read:
ODE TO MENNEL IBTISSAM SINGING HALLELUJAH ON THE VOICE FRANCE, TRANSLATED IN ARABIC
to be read from right to left, after Marwa Helal
I had never heard of Mennel Ibtissam, and I hadn’t heard about how she caused a firestorm this week, first by singing one of my favourite songs of all time, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, partly in English, partly in Arabic—beautifully in both—on the French show The Voice, second when, in George Abraham’s words,
Zionist websites harassed and stalked her personal social media accounts and found pro-Palestinian posts written in the midst of Israel’s bombing of Gaza during the summer of 2014, when over 2,000 Palestinians were slaughtered. Due to the targeted, anti-Arab backlash to Mennel’s views, she withdrew from the competition on Friday, despite being one of the top contenders.
So I listened to Mennel Ibtissam sing Hallelujah. I hope you will, too.
I read George Abraham’s poem again, from right to left, as it was meant to be read. I read some of what he referred to as “the world tearing Mennel apart” for refusing to be silenced.
I listened to Mennel’s explanation of why she withdrew from The Voice competition:
I read George Abraham’s poem again, and I listened to him read it, and then I tried to listen to him read it from left to right, but it vehemently rejected me and I had to stop.
Instead, I listened to Mennel Ibtissam sing another of my favourite songs of all time: John Lennon’s Imagine.
I share all of this with you to remind us all that we’re not the only one, and that we must keep using our voice.