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This first collection of poetry relates of these experiences of dislocation, refuge and identity crisis, as Abinader, one of the reviewers of Handal's work, points out: "Nathalie Handal's new collection of poetry, the Lives of Rain, places us in gritty scenes of exile, occupation, dislocation, refuge, and solitude -- scenes that are often associated with poets of Palestinian background."(Abinader, 256) These themes are obviously common with Palestinian poets due to the fact that they generally experience violence and political conflict more closely and therefore more poignantly. As Abinader emphasizes, the people who are depicted in Handal's poems are invariably the victims of history itself and the pressure it puts on the individual: "Handal's heroes are the survivors not only of war but of the mutability of time and the volatility of history."(Abinader, 256) One of the very significant poems in this collection is Gaza City, a text which describes a brief moment in the poet's life as she sits in her room. The poem is disturbing as it emphasizing the very oppressive atmosphere that dominates the city of Gaza because of the permanent wars and fighting that takes place in this area.
The author depicts herself standing by the window and looking upon the disaster caused by the fighting. Importantly, the poem opens with a disheartening and grim image: the people endeavor to pray in the war laden atmosphere, but their spiritual experience is disrupted by the noises made by guns and explosions. Instead of spiritual illumination the people only gain fear and infinite sadness: "The chants enter my window and I think of all / those men and women bowing in prayer, fear escaping / them at every stroke, a new sadness entering / their spirit as their children line up in the streets / like prisoners in a death camp."(Handal) the image is evocative as the children, the symbol of innocence, are seen as 'the prisoners in a death camp'. The allusion to the death camps is significant because it portrays the helpless and innocent people as alien and prisoners in their own world. Also, Handal hints that any war is in its essence a genocide that destroys the sense of humanity and justice in people. If Neruda portrayed the destructive effects of war by employing the metaphor of absolute silence which would resemble death but would be at the same time an urge to think about life and its meaning, Handal describes the aftermath of the violent fighting on the life of a city. Here also the usual course of life is disrupted, and all that remains is terror and sadness. Symbolically, the window through which Handal tries to look out on the devastated world is in itself a relic of the war, broken or cracked presumably by the fighting. The image of the town is thus desolated and barren, emptied of life and of meaning: "I walk towards the broken window / my head slightly slanted and try to catch a glimpse / of the city of spirits -- those killed / who pass through the narrow opening of their tombs."(Handal) the scene which should normally be the vivid picture of movement and life is a barren desert, an open tomb in which the gay figures of the people are replaced by the spirits of the dead who desperately float in the gruesome world. The imagery of the poem is more direct than that of Neruda's Keeping Quiet, but it hints at the same ultimate picture of a desolated and barren scenery from which life has disappeared. If Neruda emphasizes the permanent movement of life which has become destructive through violence, Handal focuses on the aftermath of war which transforms a scene that should be filled with life with a death scene.
The next sequence of the poem intensifies the desolation of the scene. A silent spectator, the speaker in the poem makes desperate gestures which tear her clothes. The extreme pain and shame represented by her gesture of hiding her face 'like a slut' is also significant. Handal thus expresses her feeling of alienation and pain, despite the fact that she should feel at home in her own country: "My hands and the side of my fight face / against the cold wall, I hide like a slut, ashamed. / I pull the collar of my light blue robe so hard / it tears, one side hanging as everyone's lives hang here."(Handal) the play on words that she uses between the torn collar of her robe and the torn and 'hanging' lives of the people in the streets suggests the rendering effect of the war on life. The continuous fighting brings life to shreds and the claws of violence make life look like a permanent funeral" "My fingers sink deep in my flesh, / I scratch myself, three lines scar my chests, / three faiths pound in my head and I wonder / if God is buffed in the rubble. Every house is a prison, / every room a dog cage. Debke is no longer part of life, / only funerals are. Gaza is pregnant / with people and no one helps with the labor."(Handal) the symbolic imagery continues, as the author hints that this extreme violence has 'buffed' God himself, spirituality itself being affected. The image of the 'pregnant' city alludes to the fact that war uproots life from its very beginning. Again, the elements of life are absent from the terrible scene: "There are no streets, no hospitals, no schools,/no airport, no air to breathe."(Handal) Normal human activity has been thus completely replaced by conflict and death. The author hints at the fact that she perceives this crude reality from the inside and that this terror-inspiring experience could never be understood from the CNN news: "In America, I would be watching television / listening to CNN saying the Israelis demand, / terrorism must stop. Here all I see is inflicted terror, / children who no longer know they are children."(Handal) in Gaza City, Handal virtually portrays a world in which death has completely usurped life and nothing remains of the value and beauty of humanity.
In another poem, Handal pinpoints the conflicts of power in the modern world and their significance. Thus, through an interesting play on words the author asserts that nothing is 'even' in our world, hinting thus at the permanent hunt for power and supremacy among countries and individuals alike: "Our nature is not even so why even try to get even / instead let us find an even better place / and call it even."(Handal) a few politicians thus destroy the world by playing a horrible game of power in which normal people are the innocent actors and victims. Handal plays with the word even and the differences between cultures which actually cause the permanent conflict. She also hints at the expression 'to get even' which symbolizes the people's race for revenge and their thirst for power.
Another modern poet who spoke about war and perceived the conflict pervading the contemporary scene is the Chinese writer Bei Dao. Dao was also a political activist who has written about the conflicts in his own country and the straining caused by the Communist regime. His poetry was however considered subversive and, like Neruda, he was politically persecuted. Requiem (for victims of June Fourth) is dedicated openly to the victims of a political demonstration which was violently suppressed through a massacre: "Bei Dao took part in demonstrations in Tiananmen Square on April 5, 1976 to mourn the death of premier Chou Enlai and to protest the dictatorship of the Gang of Four; several of his poems were read to the demonstrators, including "The Answer," which became well-known."(James, 15) in this poem, the author hints at the gap between what is officially declared by politicians and what actually happens in reality. The poem is structured by a series of denials which hint at the actual, devastating reality caused by political conflict. Thus, the first stanza opens abruptly with a denial of life itself which is replaced by death: "Not the living but the dead / under the doomsday-purple sky / go in groups / suffering guides forward suffering / at the end of hatred is hatred / the spring has run dry, the conflagration stretches unbroken / the road back is even further away."(Dao) the laden, doomsday sky presses on the world like an enormous and oppressive lid which compresses and suffocates life. Dao's poems are filled with very suggestive symbol, and along with the sufferance endured by humans all the other natural elements impart this sufferance. Thus the sky is heavy and opaque and the spring is 'dry', hinting at the drainage of life. As in Handal's poem, death also usurps life, and nascence symbolized by spring is totally absent. In the following stanza, Dao emphasizes the fact that the normal people and even the children are…[continue]
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