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Workers

It’s hot here in the desert.  Even now, in November, when people say “ah…the heat has broken,” we’re still talking 90F at midday.

The road I have to take to my house winds through a whole huge construction project designed to make room for even more cars and maybe a high-rise or two (Abu Dhabi loves itself some skyscrapers, the glassier the better).

The men who dig these roads (and build the skyscrapers) come from Kerala, Goa, Sri Lanka; Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi — places that, until I moved out here, existed only on maps or in newscasts about “more violence.”

Sometimes, when I see a man lost in thought or resting in the shade, I imagine that he’s remembering his family “back home” (we all think about that place, backhome), or daydreaming about his wife/lover/child.  And then I think maybe it’s much more prosaic than that: what’s for dinner, my feet hurt, I’m hot.

Mostly, I think these guys are invisible — invisible in the sense that Marx writes about, that all laborers are essentially invisible — and in terms of what they wear: heads swathed in scarves (absorbs sweat, keeps the sand out of eyes, ears nose), bodies wrapped in company-issued coveralls.  Without these almost faceless bodies, however, the city would collapse back into sand and dust.

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Continue Reading · on November 14, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE

in defense of poetry, with apologies to Percy Shelley

I spent about six weeks this semester teaching and talking about poetry with my students.  Almost to a person, they started the term with “eh…I don’t much like poetry,” and “I don’t get poetry,” and “what the hell is poetry even about, anyway?”

All reasonable questions, I guess, for students who have grown up in a world where they almost never encounter poetry, other than in song lyrics or spoken-word events.  Poetry, they tell me, is intimidating; it doesn’t make sense; it’s too complicated; it’s weird.

Full disclosure: I spent most of high school and all of college writing poetry. Whenever I’d get too philosophical during those late-conversations about Life that seem only to happen between the ages of 18-22 and only between the hours of 12-4AM, my friends would say “oh go write a poem,” as a way to get me to be quiet.

I kept writing poetry even after college—-poetry workshops, sending things off to magazines, the whole deal—-and stopped only when I got to graduate school, which pretty much thrashed every creative bone out of my body. Took me decades to get the graduate school’s pinched-face editor in my head to stop saying things like “maudlin!” “derivative!” and “you call that writing?”

All of which is to say is that although I knew my students wouldn’t be excited about spending all this time reading poetry, I was looking forward to spending time with words, nothing but words.  Someone said once that poetry is language calling attention to itself, and while I think poetry can be much more than that, that idea isn’t a bad place to start.  Poetry gives us a chance to think about how words feel in our mouths and sound out loud; poetry’s language works by compressing, distilling, wringing an experience or idea to a kind of essence that works on us in ways that we might not ever really understand.

We roamed through Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” in which a gun transforms to a spade transforms to a pen in the hand of the poet; we looked at John Donne’s “Batter my heart three person’d god,” in which faith becomes a kind of ravishment, a physical experience; we talked about the bleak beauty in some of Anna Akhmatova’s lines; and marveled at the incandescent anger of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.”  The students put aside “it’s weird,” or perhaps, actually, they began to embrace the weird; they let themselves roam around inside the poems and not insist on absolute meanings.  And I got, perhaps, a little carried away by the whole thing and put a sign on my office door that said “Today’s Poem,” and then every day, I would post a new poem — a famous poem, an obscure poem, prose poem, haiku, nabati lyric — all kinds of poems.

One of the poems I put on my door is Ezra Pound’s imagist poem about being in the French Metro, called, fittingly, “In a station of the metro.”  It reads like this:

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd:
Petals      on a wet, black    bough.

And yes, that’s what it looks like on the page, and yes, that’s the entire poem.  And yes, it’s a little weird.

But you know? Think about being in a crowded subway station, on a rainy day. Think about the blur of faces. Now think about the blur of wet, say, cherry blossoms on a dark branch.

See?

In his essay “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley (every time I say his name in class someone giggles, and I totally get it), said “Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”

I guess the student who scrawled this comment at the bottom of the Pound poem wanted to live in a world governed entirely by reason. That strikes me as incredibly limited, and not a little bit sad.

IMG_7485Doesn’t make sense. Quit wasting paper.

Continue Reading · on November 13, 2013 in Books, Education, language, NaBloPoMo, reading, teaching, writing

mosques

Just at the afternoon adhan today, I was out walking in the neighborhood near my office, searching for candy a nutritious snack to carry me through four hours of back-to-back meetings.

I am struck always, in Abu Dhabi, by the juxtaposition of glassy office towers against the ancient worlds summoned up in the call to prayer, the way the modern quite literally bumps up against the old.

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I am struck too by the dailiness of religious practice, which I suppose to someone with a strong faith (in any tradition) would not be at all striking.  I don’t mean “daily” in the sense of praying every day (although of course people do, and five times a day, to boot), but in the sense of being ordinary, comforting, homely: the trusting pile of scuffed shoes waiting outside the plain door of the mosque.

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Continue Reading · on November 12, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, NaBloPoMo, religion, street notes, UAE

NaBloPoMo: Day 10

Erica, over at yeahwrite, asked me to write a guest post for Day 10 of this month o’blogging.  My post about wrushing into writing (see what I did there?) is up at yeahwrite today, so click over there  — and while you’re there, click around on the grid and read some of the other writers who have committed to posting every day (and may well end up being committed by month’s end).

Continue Reading · on November 10, 2013 in NaBloPoMo, writing

Nothing Ever Dies on the Internet

I’m still playing ketchup with nablopomo, which sounds a bit like something you’d order in a Mexican restaurant, doesn’t it?

You can read today’s post in Abu Dhabi’s newspaper, where I’m writing about the eternal conflict between innocence (my almost thirteen year old son) and experience (me, aka cynical mommy).  Youth and innocence wants to believe that his friends would never, ever spread anything of his across the internet. Cynicism and bitterness says…nothing ever dies on the internet, so be careful.

Shockingly, I don’t think he believes me.

You can read the piece here

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Continue Reading · on November 9, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, tech life, The National

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