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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

The Expression of Not-Knowing: An Interview with Kevin Prufer

March 7, 2014 | by

prufer churches

Detail from the cover of Kevin Prufer’s Churches.

The Winter issue of The Paris Review includes Kevin Prufer’s poem “How He Loved Them.” Prufer is the author of six books of poetry and the editor of several anthologies. His latest collection, Churches, was published this week. He teaches at the University of Houston.

The poem stages a scene of terrible yet familiar violence—a car bomb explodes in front of a courthouse, killing a colonel and his two granddaughters. But the poem is less about the event than the aftermath. The explosion becomes a spectacle for bystanders, who record it on their smartphones. In what ways are poems like our devices—in thrall to spectacle, turning moments into eternities?

Turning moments into eternities was truly at the center of the poem for me—the idea of the afterlife, of divine translation. I imagined that the colonel, who acknowledges he has done terrible things, dies in a moment of inarticulable love for his granddaughters. Of course, he becomes spectacle for us, his death recorded and uploaded to the Internet, where we watch it over and over again. But, in another way, perhaps he has been redeemed, has been, himself, uploaded to a kind of heaven where his love is played out eternally. At least, that’s how I like to think about him and the poem—about the moral, spiritual, digital complexities that can be packed into a single moment … a moment we, unknowing, watch play out on our computer screens.

The way this bomb works as “a divine translation” reminds me of another poem of yours, “A Minor Politician,” from National Anthem. That poem is a posthumous monologue, delivered from the crypt. The speaker is an honorable pol, though he has served questionable goals. At the end of the poem, he sees God’s hand, “like a bomb,” reaching through the catacombs to “take my body from the tatters / and lift me through the shadows / to the trees.” Are these cases of redemption through violence?

I think the same question is at play, yes. But the poems have very different contexts. When I wrote National Anthem, I was caught in a vortex during which all I could think about was classical—mostly Roman—history. I read about that to the exclusion of most other things. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were new and I was living in a small Missouri town very near an Air Force base, and heard echoes of Roman history everywhere. That ancient politician thinks he has been redeemed by God, by God’s hand breaking through the ceiling. But really, it was time and forgetfulness that redeemed him—and one of our bombs breaking through his crypt two thousand years later, shedding light on him. Read More »

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The Born Identity: An Interview with Sayed Kashua

April 29, 2013 | by

Portrait of the Arab-Israeli author Sayed Kashua.My Skype chat with Arab Israeli author Sayed Kashua started off on a promising note when we bonded over our ineptitude for all things mathematical. Except he, in typical fashion, was being facetious, while I had tried in vain to figure out Israeli time zones. The author—who also happens to be a columnist for the newspaper Ha’aretz and the writer of the popular Israeli-aired TV show Arab Labor—has an intimate relationship with the complexity of what it means to be an enigma in Israeli society. His most recent novel, Second Person Singular, is a delicately interwoven narrative, stitched together by instances of jealously, raw relationships, and the deeply embedded dogma of identity. Sayed’s cautionary tale doesn’t presume an intimate familiarity with the intractable Gordian Knot of Israeli society in order to understand human nature, willful dignity, and self-destructive tendencies. And therein lies the point.

I caught up with Kashua over the audible sounds of his young children shrieking in the background, and we spoke about the paradoxes of being an Arab Israeli columnist who lives in a prominently Jewish neighborhood, and whose daughter shares a schoolyard with the Israeli Prime Minister’s son.

I was just playing with my little boy.

How old is he?

I don’t know exactly…

I think maybe we’re both equally bad at math.

No, no, he is a year and eight months.

Just me then. You just came back from a book tour, which you’ve capped off by saying you want both sides to go to hell. So it sounds like it went well. Did you learn anything new in the interim?

Yes, that the real Jewish state is the Upper West Bank, in New York, and that Montreal can be very cold. I don’t know what I learned this time around, because it’s not my first time, but I think that this feeling that I can run away from dealing with identity, or not to feel like a persecuted minority will not go away if I move to Canada or the U.S. Because most people I met were dealing with issues of identity, language, belonging, and what does home mean. But most of the people that I met were Israeli, or Arab, or Palestinians. I think that identity doesn’t deserve so much thinking, to be honest. I think [from the tour] I have earned my confusion in a very honest way. Being a Palestinian citizen of Israel, it’s okay. We can be confused. I hear criticisms from both sides, but the majority of both sides really listen and like my work, so the tour was great.

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The Dying Sea

November 28, 2012 | by

On the road from Jericho to the beaches of the Dead Sea, there is an architectural curiosity, a yellowish abandoned building. My grandmother would tell me its story every time we passed it on our way for a day at the beach. One should bear in mind that “a day at the beach” at the Dead Sea is not “a day at the beach.” It is its evil twin. The day is spent walking on jagged rocks, falling into pits of gooey black mud, and trying to pretend that such an unearthly density of salt sticking to your body is not as painful as it actually is. The adults would further complicate my love-hate relationship with those beach days by tell us terrifying stories about the ghoul who lived in the cliffs and would eat us up if we strayed too far.

This might explain why my favorite moment was the glimpse we got of that yellowish building. I can’t remember when this place used to be a hotel, or what its name was, but I remember the description. It was prewar—pre-1948, or pre-1967, it doesn’t really matter which; we have had as many golden ages as we’ve had catastrophes. Suitably enough, the hotel was a gem of gold and velvet. The people there were rich, they spoke five languages, they were beautiful, and they knew how to waltz. Read More »

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