Composer Mohammed Fairouz
It’s premature to relegate poetry to mausoleums or crypts. In some places in the world, people cry, break down and weep to poetry. They lose it. It happens in well-worn cafés in Middle Eastern cities like Cairo, Beirut and Marrakech when storytellers take the floor. Same when fakirs near Karachi entrance crowds with their Sufi recitations. As people cast off their certainties, they open themselves. They inhale and exhale through their emotional pores.
Would listeners of poetry in the US ever break down and cry? Probably not. Their physical reactions would be more visceral, in your face, even violent. That’s the language that curators and editors of poetry magazines use when describing their ideal experience. They want poetry to knock their socks off (mild); shake them to their core, be blown away, be torched and tornadoed, be changed forever. Emily Dickinson may have established the esteemed American tradition when she said, “If I feel physically that the top of my head were taken off, I know it’s poetry.”
Composer Mohammed Fairouz reaches for the cleansing experience of poetry on his new album, Follow, Poet – deep emotive feeling rather than a Poltergeist 360 degree rotation of your head. His work is an imaginative crossroads of culture and convivencia. The classical musician sets the moving, inquiring poems of W. H. Auden, sung by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, to his percussive music. He records recitations of Seamus Heaney poems.
His love of Irish poets is fascinating for an American with Arab roots born in 1985. He is cosmopolitan. Fairouz drops in “found material” like a rapper, lines about the arts from a riveting speech of John F. Kennedy: “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
Isn’t the poet one who journeys and carries his or her truth to others? In this way, Fairouz composes a five-part ballet to honor Anwar Sadat, the man who had the courage to cross cultures and recognize Israel. Fairouz also crosses borders. In previous work, Symphony #3, Poems and Prayers, the composer began with Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and included lyrics by the Palestinian poets Fadwa Tuqan and Mahmoud Darwish, and Israeli poet Yehida Amichai. He talks about his inclusive process in the following interview: http://onbeing.org/program/transcript/7517#main_content
Fairouz closes his album with recitation of Auden’s journey from near cultural devastation to light, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” The title comes from this stanza:
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.
Very shrewd to address the needs of part of your audience by recontextusluzing Dickinson’s iconic statement. Suddenly the ground shifts. We get a glimpse — more and more– of s new poetics, one grounded in polyvocal culture springing from ancient liturgical traditions instead of the lonely self-consciousness of modern ego-reflexivity. Yes lots of big words there check ’em out!
Poetry is like water. Flows where it sees the opening. People who have all the answers are emotionally impenetrable. They are not vulnerable, they don’t let poetry in. So it has to find its way among “marginalized,” who by definition, do not accept the dominant culture’s answers. Irish, Arabs, Jews — these are the people who were traditionally marginalized and thus are still open to poetry.
Agreed, Vladimir. People who assume themselves to be masters of the universe might see themselves in Auden’s poem “In memory of WB Yeats”: “But in the importance and noise of tomorrow/When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse/And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed/And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom.” They don’t see how trapped they are inside the cells of themselves and in their certainties. But of course all people have the capability of being vulnerable. And the “marginalized” or “sensitized” must recognize their participation in being, not simply their own suffering.
These ideas lack currency not because people haven’t read Auden et al. What’s missing is an awareness of how radical in terms of neo-liberalism this critique is. The autonomous modern self, authorized by modern ideas of objectivity, leads to forgetfulness of being — by being I mean each self’s identity in creation or reality.mi don’t mean Heidegger’s univocal being which is default in today’s intellectual culture. I’ve noticed the refusal of critics of Heaney to acknowledge his metaphysical dimension, especially in the later poems. Critics of Celan refuse to acknowledge the dialogical sacred aspect of his vision. There is growing scholarship on alternatives to modernism, so maybe the tide will turn, but poets need to be more aware of the logic of modern nihilism and the richness of the apophatic traditions.