Jack Ross, ed.: brief 30 - Kunst (November 2004)
Basim Furat, Here and There: A Selection. Wellington: HeadworX, 2004. ISBN 0-476-00885-9. 64 pp. RRP $19.95.
Basim Furat: Here and There (2004)
I suppose a central difficulty in presenting any Arabic author in English is the former language’s tolerance for rhetoric. English writing, for better or worse, has (over the past century, at any rate) become addicted to the spare, the pared-down, fragmentary. Basim Furat’s poems are therefore particularly hard to judge when taken out of literary and cultural context. There are a good many peacocks and dates and camels and minarets in them. He’s particularly fond of making things “neigh” or “whinny” or “coo” (an earlier volume is in fact entitled The Vehemence of Cooing) – which gives an unfortunate effect of Old MacDonald’s farm to much of the work. Having said that, though, there are moments when one feels the mask is stripped away, when he allows himself to speak simply and expressively of an almost unimaginable range of experience: as a soldier in the second Gulf War, an Iraqi exile in the bland confines of Wellington, lover, brother, child – “An embrace interrupted only by strafing,” as he calls it on p.22. One of the strongest of these poems, I would suggest, is “1 March 1967” reprinted in dual-text (backwards, as befits its orthographic tradition) on pp.110-13 of brief #31. It is, incidentally, very enterprising of HeadworX to commit itself to publishing translations both from the Hebrew and the Arabic poetry during this dark year of political divisions and hatreds. Basim Furat’s book would therefore have a symbolic significance to us even if his verse were entirely pedestrian. Fortunately that is by no means the case.