Poetry has long been the people’s choice when it comes to protest and giving voice to a discontent that needs to be heard. Perhaps the need for social reform is at the root of the matter, a desire to see the end of war, a better regard for the space we inhabit. Undoubtedly, these worthy causes can be seen reflected in the poetry of many cultures, but perhaps none more so then the Middle East, where the ravaged landscapes and desperate people, some in exile or hiding, worry for the future and the very existence of their race.
The Voice of the Poet
When some of the countries in this region have put the people under severe duress, through harsh government or military actions, it is the voice of the poet that very often is the first to be heard and the one that becomes the loudest, as the oppressed seek to add theirs too. Is it at all possible to make sense of the things happening to the people that suffer in these areas? Probably not, but the poet can give voice to their feelings, can serve as historian and a keeper of the actions that often defy belief.
Many of the poets who express their feelings and record the truth are forced to do so from afar, living in self-imposed exile, the alternative being incarceration for their art. The Kurdish poet Bejan Matur grew up in Turkey keenly aware that as part of the Kurdish people, she was not permitted to fully acknowledge her true identity, belonging to a people consistently marginalized. As a student she was arrested and imprisoned for a time in solitary confinement, and thus began her journey as a poet, discovering a means by which to retain her sanity and endure her persecution. Later she became a voice of her people, no longer forced to communicate in acceptable Turkish but able to express herself in her mother tongue. Today she makes her home in the U.K and continues to use her poetic voice to counter the politics and violence, without submitting to that arena but maintaining her integrity as a poet.
Similarly, war poet Maram al-Masri lives in exile; in her case, Paris is her physical home, although her heart remains in Syria. Knowing she would be at best thrown in prison if she returned and more likely killed, she tries to content herself with visiting refugee camps that house the many Syrians fleeing the atrocities. Like Bejan, Maram seeks to give voice to her people and not a specific individual per say. With the advent of war, she saw her role as narrator and historian emerge and like so many poets, whose very lives have been impacted by injustice, felt compelled to add her voice to the dialogue.
Hala Mohammad also from Syria has been in Paris since 2011, not in exile but by choice. Unlike many poets of the region she does not consider herself a war poet but a writer whose poetry can be a force for good in this time of conflict. Like many writers of this tumultuous region, she is seeking to use her craft as a way to enact change that doesn’t simply feed the already voracious war machine. These three poets represent a sliver of the writers who shine a light on a very dark world and especially the troubles of this conflicting region.