Why



Dr. Marwan Asmar

Poetry can be the greatest form of expression bounding on the aesthetic and the beautiful, rich, heartfelt, melancholic and the exhilaration of nuances, powerful expressions and the sense of beyond-earthily universalism.

The latest collection of meanderings by Khaled H. Nusseibeh titled Why, A Book of Thoughts, attempts to do that, to combine the oneness of the Omnipotent God and the spirituality of the Creator with the everyday happenings that dwell on our existence, as humans, geography and sensation of belonging in an ethereal and tenuous life.

What makes this collection special and pleasing is that it is rare for an Arab scholar to express his thoughts, and literary dilletante intellect in a language that is not his own. In some ways it can be argued that this ability is advantageous because the writer comes to grips with ideas, concepts and beliefs pertaining to two different languages and then collates them together.

The beauty of this collection is in the words. The artistry of English lies in the vastness of its terminologies, enunciations, expressions, didactics and renditions which Nusseibeh uses in a dexterous manner, expressing his vibrancy as he flows out of one set of words into another. He does this with great agility as referenced in the text and the body of ideas.

Let us make no mistake about this collection. It is written in free verse with no strict corners and linings which some poets like to "rigidify" themselves into. Here the words are chosen carefully with a sense of appeal, creativity and resourcefulness to show the scintillating sound and dazzle of the language and the set of messages the author is seeking, almost beseeching, in their conveyance.

This is no abstract poetry, or at least the verses are not for the high-brow. In this short book collection there are 27 compositions, ones that border on the philosophical, metaphysical and stoic. In a rational, thoughtful way, it also laments on the periphery of our helplessly and immutably forsaken surroundings.

In between the devotion and spirituality of the Almighty God and faith punctuated by a great deal of reverence to the Absolute Being, the "Compassionate" and the "Merciful" the author expands on his thoughts. They become derivatives and earthily, providing poetical verse on our geography, globalism, antiquity and structure starting from Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza and then border-crosses to downtown Amman and the precious surroundings to others. This he conveys further in his recitals on grapes, "nature endowed with tremendous staying power", mountains, virgin oil, "flowers blossom beautifully" , the "illusion of permanence" and columns associated with historicity of the area and its immense importance to humanity.

There is a sense of comprehensiveness about the author's poetry, an almost set of continuum between the Almighty being, the celestial universe and mother earth, its humans and compounds. In these arrayed collections the reader is embossed with Nusseibeh's great belief in the coexistence of the three monotheistic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. His descriptions are vivid of the mosque minaret and the cathedral, the Lord, the Samaritans and the "great Umar" and the "twilight of a magnificent civilization", the "radiation of a culture of justice and dignified living". While he talks about the "wreaking havoc and despoiling the green land" there is the "dazzling history, glorious present" and the "splendid living tradition"

The author uses a system of contrasts of narrative descriptions to show the richness of the language but at the same time the contradictory ideas that mull in our earthily being. He is not bashful, nor does he mince words. There is a sense of enchantment, elegance and bombastic allure in his verse. Yet as opposed and in direct, contradistinction and contrariety, he uses semiotics and symbolism like absolute, veritable, hell-fire, evil, indignation, wanton killings and victimization and evil vanquished by righteous deeds, "prolonged occupation, "terrible scourge of indifference, "saga of immense tribulation and indignation", "winter of our discontents", "bitter and sweet harvest". These are deliberately used to convey to the reader the injustices man commits on to a man and what entities have done unto other nations in the quest for domination.

The force of anxiety and certitude continues when he talks about "mutual denunciation" where he dwells on the "devil's speech", the "unbelief", the "eternal grudge", "sin of pride drove him to disobey the Lord", "trying to imbue humans with the same sin" and his "perennial aim to lead astray." These are not only strong semantics but powerful ideas designed to reflect our own place in history and what happened to humanity and the "hellfire" that may await us, if we don't right-track on the path of righteousness.

There is a kinesthesia of breadth in this collection embedded with intellectuality, enlightenment and savvy refinement. A broad compositional theme centers on what he calls hyperbole and thinking hovering around "erecting structures of knowledge", "fusing the visible with the metaphysics" and for a "language accommodat[ing] a vast system of meaning" and a "loss for words". As well there is a "lush color" in what he says putting together by the "rays of the sun", harmonious with "immense visual variety".

There is much magnitude to discern from this collection of verse. It may seem disparate because of the breadth of the topics and themes, which intermingle, inter-relate and join together as a whole, adding to the tremendous amount that can be said, enjoyed and fathomed by poetry through subtle extrapolations.

Finally, the sheer word wizardry must have to do with the professional training of the author, not only as a translator but as an intellectual. Why is just his latest offering. He wrote many books in English and Arabic including Life and Faith, Echoes of the Spirit, and Gentle Wind. He also translated a book by Mohammad Mubarak titled Islam: Doctrine and Ritual. Having initially studied in Britain., Nusseibeh has a BA and MA from Columbia and Princeton Universities in the United States and today is a member of the International Institute for Islamic Thought and the Jerusalem Forum.