Saturday, January 17, 2015

Occupied city

Police patrol vans on both sides of the street, the military in the streets with para-commando's in full gear patrolling the neighborhood ... isn't quite something that makes me feel safe. Granted, I live at the edge of the Jewish quarter, cross it regularly walking the dog, going to the supermarket... I can't show you the pictures: it isn't even allowed to take a picture... It would be a bit intimidating if one would try. I think violence begets violence. Non-violence is the only way to live in a civilized society. Talking to all kinds of people and trying to understand the other is always a good start. Understanding the needs of an other human being makes one feel their anguish. Kindness doesn't kill. I know these words are poor in contrast to the beauty and respect I would want to share. Hate begins with exclusion, by being uncaring, unthinking of the plight of 'others'. We are all others, different and have the right to be so.
We would loose such beauty, such song, such poetry, such alternative ways of looking at the world, if we don't strive for inclusiveness.
The New years reception of the Flemish Fund for Letters was inclusive: Three writers who all three spoke a different local version of Arab talked and laughed and gave us great poetry and prose. One musician gave us foreign sounds and longings. This choice was just the right thing at the right time...
keeping the flame of hope and togetherness burning.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A chilling African perspective

Yesterday I translated into Dutch a poem by an African poet and learned about the almajiri... I must admit I have also been thinking about the 200 girls boko haram took and cannot possibly imagine their life, if they are still alive... We know also about the horror of Baga.
A friend of mine, Arlette, has lived in Senegal for almost nine months and she told me about the marabouts forcing the young boys to beg... So I recognised the cruel fate of the boys in the poem... I guess it is a sad Pan-African image. I hope that once the translations are published in Dutch that tons of people will get the education I am getting by doing this work. I gain a deeper understanding. The news isn't just a snipped of news but another injustice, another violence from one human being to an other.  I learned from a friend that in Nigeria, the casualty figures from the past 72 hours run as high as 2000 dead and countless injured, several people now refugees in their own country. I guess this is what the mass murderers want, for peaceful people to be speechless. It is obvious that Europe is in shock at the barbarity of this outrage in Paris. The far right xenophobes will make some gains no doubt and there will be repercussions on otherwise innocent people, that is the human reaction to outrage. What I hope emerges from the ruins of the world as we knew it to be, is a better awareness of the evil now roaming the world. It seeks to kill inquiry, humour, pleasure and dissent. It has no sense of proportions for, if the four terrorists in Paris had access to an atom bomb, we all better believe that they would have used it. The same is true for the ones in Nigeria and Sudan.
That reason and balance will win eventually, my friend is sure of. It may take some time but reason will prevail. My friend has gone back to reading Karl Popper (The Open Society and its Enemies) and is actively campaigning for a change of government (the  president went to a wedding this weekend).
The poem I referred to:

In Sokoto‘s kitchens, ecstasy staggers the pulse
With rare legumes, ricemeal, cabbages and roasts.
Outside, suya, peppered over with panache in the false
Light of paraffin lanterns where every evening boasts

Fresh kills and the kindness of instant noodles
Served garnished with lettuce and a choice of eggs.
A youth, almajiri, receives a serving of tea and huddles
With the waiting troop, all standing on spindly legs

And their chatter continues into early morning
Going over happenings and also boko haram.
There is no consensus, a few cigarettes burning,
And each hoping to be the famous last Imam.

One does, out of that horde, become
The priapic king of that harmattan evening.
He won‘t tell the story; he has made it home,
His store of memories, his final swan-offering.

A desert‘s diaspora whispers in scattered gardens
Where plants like kept women swoon with watering
And the aseptic present bearing dark burdens
Conspires to kill the renegade seed. There is muttering

In the wake of vanished arbors, the plains
Playing dead like Sahara‘s volcanoes. Windborne
Charms are balms to the earth‘s perpetual pains,
Her stripping and rape, her hope forlorn.

Friday, January 9, 2015

We are all Charlie in the silent vigil in Antwerp

 The venue for the vigil had been chosen well, in the center of town, in from of a wall with a huge cartoon. It seemed appropriate to honor the cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo in such a location A few hundred people showed up. Holding their pen or pencil, a candle, a  in cartoon... There was solemn quietness and in the sadness also joy at seeing friends one hadn't seen for a long time, knowing they belong to 'one's tribe'. Writers, members of PEN-Flanders were present and our president was interviewed. She spoke out eloquently about free speech being a fundamental element of democracy.

 A guest from Poland was there, poets en route to the poetry café where they had performance after the vigil. It was a solemn gathering, yet one could feel a quiet determination not to succumb to fear. At the end of the gathering we left the candles in two safe places, letting the light shine in the darkness of a cold and wed winter's night. Joan Baez sang it right so long ago:
We are not afraid!
We shall overcome... one day...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I am Charlie

For my American friends I want to explain what the magazine Charlie
Hebdo represents. That is where the heinous attack happened yesterday in Paris. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine. They use humor as their tool, they are brave and have always defended freedom of expression whether in a cartoon, or as free speech which is the pillar of democracy. When the first cartoon was published by a Danish newspaper, remember the Prophet with a turban as a bomb, the editor in Chief of Charlie Hebdo immediately published the drawing as a gesture of solidarity. Free speech is important and the genius of this particular magazine is that they had four hugely talented, courageous and humorous cartoonists: Charb, the editor in chief, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, Maris who is a renowned left wing economist and also the several wonderful writers and the editor and the staff where extremely brave. They did not let anybody intimidate them. Twelve people lost their life. Eight people are in hospital. 35.000 people went to the Place de la Republique to stand in silence, peacefully, respectfully in a spontaneous gesture of solidarity, showing they are not intimidated. This morning the Belgian newspapers printed a lots of cartoons, since we too have a few sharp penned, smart cartoonists in solidarity with their colleagues in Paris. Tonight there is a silent memorial in Antwerp. I'll be there in the rain, so will be the President of Pen-Flanders...

Yes: We are Charlie, we defend freedom of expression. The pen is mightier than the sword. We all will show our pen. I am member of PEN-Flanders.

Saturday, December 20, 2014



 Luxury means something different to different people. To inmates in the Antwerp jail it are poetry books in a language the prisoners can read as City Poet Laureate Stijn Vrancken found out when the he looked into what category of books were most borrowed from the jail's library. And yes, to his astonishment, it was poetry. So Stijn asked his fellow poets, writers and readers to bring their books to the 'Letteren huis' (House of letters) in as many languages as we had. I brought a stack consisting of Dutch, French, Cornish, German, English and Italian. Walking through the city with my the emptied caddy, I came upon a magnificent place, totally in period, tastefully restaurated. I asked whether I might take some pictures... I was, as I often do, wearing black. So the owner of the shop explained I shouldn't wear black, that doing so is cheap. One should only wear silk and real cashmere and color, and pattern... In other words to buy stunning clothing one can wear but few times on social occasions because otherwise people would say: Oh, there she is with that gorgeous dress, again and again... He then showed me some mindbogglingly beautiful dresses, one with a coat lined in the same silk pattern as the dress itself. I said: I obviously could never afford that lifestyle. His answer surprised me: I should find a sponsor... I can't figure out what he really means. Was he seeing Elisa Doolittle whom he could turn into a lady? Was he suggesting I should invest in one such dress and find a lover with good taste and money to burn?

So I have been wondering what my personal luxury would be: A pretty colorful, aging hippie hoody? Or is it rather being in the warm company of interesting people even if they are penniless, impecunious and without funds, had to flee their country for speaking out, for being at risk because of poems they wrote. My luxury is knowing, Tade, Déo and Hazim, and reading their work... Knowing Rollean and his always nonviolent stand for justice and peace.
May they all be safe. To them safety is luxury.

To me luxury is being with four people in a room and each one is from a different continent...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Abandoned by the muse by Bieke Stengos

Having moved in the same circles when young, the setting full of street musicians, painters and poets our lives took different paths. Bieke Stengos emigrated to Canada, studied some more and has a magnificent daughter. What is the same in our lives is that we both write. She just has a book out published by Vocamus Press, her second  book of poetry. Her inspiration is the land, the landscape, the changing season. her poetry is filled with the strange beauty of melancholy. She came back to Belgium for a brief time and thus salon 12b invited her and the other poets present for a reading: Lucienne Stassaerts, who read impressive poems from work in progress: Souvenirs part II, Frank De Vos, Silent Bear, myself.
One poem by Bieke: 
When I dream you into being
I find myself lost in a fog-invaded forest
Of glimmering naked trees
That rise
from the blue-white snow
cold like your body
Before heat devoured it

I search for a place to breathe freely
But I get lost
In the press of your lips
Against the stretched skin of time
And the memory of you fading
Like a melting negative
Of a city with no sun
Where streets run dead into low walls

When I open my eyes
To a black line of upright trees
I vanish from sight
Translation nto Dutch for whom needs it:

Als ik je tot leven droom
Verlies ik mezelf
In een nevel doordesemd bos
Van glimend naakte bomen
Die oprijzen
Uit blauwwitte sneeuw
Koud als je lichaam
Voor de hitte het verslond

Ik zoek een plek om vrij te ademen
Maar verlies mijzelf
In de druk van je lippen
Tegen de gespannen huid van de tijd
En de herinnering aan jou vervaagt
Als een smeltend negatief
Van een stad zonder zon
Waar straten dood lopen op lage muren

Wanneer ik mijn ogen open
Op een zwarte rij loodrechte bomen
Verdwijn ik uit het zicht

Monday, December 15, 2014

The movie 'Coming home'

Last night with a friend, in my festively lit town, we enjoyed a nice sashimi dinner: excellent raw fish, healthy and delicious. After green tea ice cream and white sesame ice cream, we saw in my preferred movie theater 'Cartoons' the movie Coming home. The story about love, guilt and grace is set in China. The father was a dissident and ended up for 30 years in jail. The daughter grew up under the so called "Cultural Revolution". She is a great and ambitious dancer and will do anything to secure the lead role, even betraying her father. The mother is a professor, loving and missing her husband. Finally a date is set for his return and then the movie turns into the sadness of dementia. She doesn't recognize her husband and for the betrayal by her daughter, she has chased her off. The husband, an intelligent, kind and compassionate man, comes up with ways to try and make his wife recognize him, which happens just one fleeting moment. He reads the letters he wrote but could send from jail to her... So he becomes the 'letter reader', he tunes the piano and he is the piano tuner. The daughter confesses it was her who betrayed him... He said I knew. It is all right... He knew what the cultural revolution did to people. He finally writes a letter asking the mother to let her daughter stay with her again... so that she can take care of her. The father becomes an accepted presence in whatever role it is that day. It is a beautiful and sad movie. I shed a few tears for my mother who passed away in February with dementia.

So with the beauty and understanding coming from art, I try to live my life to the fullest. I wish you all a beautiful end of year season.... May it be Hanukkah, Christmas, or a family fest... May there be peace, food, health and beauty for all.