Sargon Boulus(Iraq - San Francisco, USA)
A poet deals with time; all those metrics and intricacies of music and sound are only ways of measuring time, drop by drop, as it slips through his fingers and evaporates into nothing. 'The drop that doesn't become the river is devoured by the sands,' says Ghalib in one of his Ghazals.Time after time we make the discovery that when we are writing we are actually remembering, not the past itself, not a person or place, a scene or sound or song, but first and foremost we are remembering words. The words that reside in a certain memory, that carry the echoes of a certain place and time. But the problem for a poet is not essentially one of vocabulary. The problem is how to take the old vocabulary and put it in new settings, in new structures that will speak of our present, and illuminate what is happening now. So the function of memory is not simple: one needs to know the words and what they mean, but one needs also to forget the settings in which they are found.
This is why it can happen, while one writes, in the middle of his journey or near its end, that all the while he had been traveling toward Ithaka, and that he only left it in order to find it.
It was Gertrude Stein who put it right when she said: 'Writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there….of course sometimes people discover their own country as if it were the other.'
There is a tale attributed to Rumi that says: 'A man went to the door of the beloved, and knocked. A voice from inside asked him: who is there? The man answered: This is me. 'This place is not wide enough for you and me', said the voice. The door remained closed. The man went away, perplexed and confused, wondering about those words, contemplating their hidden meaning. After a year of living in solitude, deprived of the simplest pleasures of life, he finally decided to go out and knock on the door again. The same voice asked him from inside:' Who is there?' 'This is you', the man answered. And the door was opened.
Of course, to the Sufi, a whole series of rigorous spiritual exercises has to be gone through in order for the door to be opened so he can enter into the presence of the beloved, as the mystics call him, or God. The task of the poet, whose only tools are words, is different. For him the door is locked until he succeeds, through sheer dedication, in penetrating the mystery of language itself. And because art is long and life is short, no individual poet has ever been able to achieve this formidable task completely, even the greatest ones. What happens is that each poet throughout history, whether consciously or not, is actually continuing the work of the poets who came before him, something like an endless poem or chain-letter that extends into eternity, or the end of time. Milosz wrote a poem once that says exactly this; it tells about the incredible journey of poets through the ages, as a band of humans who chose their own way, bent on telling the truth.
In the same vein, Borges, in his essay 'Coleridge's Rose', has iterated a similar idea: that all poets have actually been elaborating the same ancient epic of which each poem is only a mere fragment. I liked Milosz's poem so much that I translated it into Arabic and published it in a daily newspaper that is published in London, where the Nobel laureate was to give a reading at the London Poetry Festival. The great poet was fascinated by the shape of the Arabic letters, and asked me eagerly which poem it was. I told him it was titled 'A Report' and was obviously raised to God, or an entity he called 'O Most High'. Milosz beamed. 'Oh yes of course,' he said. You know, I have sent him many reports through the years, but He has never answered me.'
I couldn't help saying to the great poet:' Who knows, maybe one day He will.