"The Pages of Day and Night"by Adonis
A review by Ruchi Mital
The first sentence in the preface to this collection of poems is "I write in a language that exiles me." Written by Adonis in 1992 the preface goes on to explain the relationship of the Arab poet to his language and his poetry, but it is this first sentence that we read over and over again in each poem in this expansive collection.
The poems go through the range of human experience: love, death, war, but without an I, without a reference. For one for whom everything is removed, one who has been banished from everything including himself, there is no reference point. The lack of an "I" allows the poems, and through them the readers, to be full of emptiness. The poems are full of images of sand, wind, stone, trees, water, sky. While these images have a history in the tradition of Arabic poetry, Adonis uses them also to show the distance from the tradition. He is able to set this opposition in dialogue without overtly addressing it; all of the poems are about poetry, and yet they are not. The images are sharp, the voices in the poems can really be heard. The long poem "The Funeral of New York" seems timely, haunting today, though it was written in the seventies. In this poem Adonis writes, "New York is a woman/ holding, according to history,/ a rag called liberty with one hand/ and strangling the earth with the other." This poem is hard to read from here, where we are. Here, today it is hard to read "let statues of liberty crumble./ Out of corpses now sprout nails/ in the manner of flowers./ An eastern wind uproots tent and skyscrapers/ with its wings." If we move beyond our instinct to directly connect these words with actual events, and read from inside the absence that is the world of these poems we can feel what sharp, desperate, powerful words they are. The power to create a presence out of absence is truly amazing, and that is what these poems do. These are poems from the outside that illuminate all that is inside. Without the fixed reference of the "I" the meanings slide and shift and grow away from certainty and into the realm of possibility. As Adonis writes in the essay that concludes the volume, "It is the language of the far away and the perilous: a language of extremes, a language that flays words and in so doing expresses world."
Ruchi Mital - Tribes © August 2002