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Born in 1975, Bahraini poet Ali Al Jallawi began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. His early work was characterized by revolutionary and political ideas, and he was imprisoned for three months at the age of seventeen after writing a poem in which he criticized the Bahraini regime. He was arrested again in 1995, during the uprising in Bahrain, and imprisoned until 1998, the period covered in his memoir, God After Ten O’Clock. His collections of poetry include Al Madina Al Akhira, Dilmuniyat I, Dilmuniyat II, and Tashta’il karazat nahd. During the crackdown against the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain earlier this year, Ali Al Jallawi fled the country and is now in exile in Europe.
Ali al-Jallawi: The Poet
by Barbara Michalak-Pilulska
Ali al-Jallawi was imprisoned many times for his political convictions and artistic work, consequently it would be misleading to interpret his poems as the notes of an ordinary citizen. The author himself gives us a strong indication as to this in the motto contained in one of his volumes, entitled Al-'Isyan. Risalat aI-Mundhir (Revolt. The Mundhir Treaty): "because the tribe meant love I created a book of passion and announced my prophecy". And in actual fact the poet's verse is in a way prophecy relating to the changes in Bahrain. The title refers to Mundhir bin Sawa who ruled in Bahrain during the period of conversion to Islam. These arc murky visions, an understated prediction, images full of symbols, made unreal yet concerning reality. The tribe mentioned by the poet appears to be the departure point for his solutions. His creativity is first and foremost patriotic lyricism – the homeland's past and its state at present (e.g.Ana min huna- I'm from Here, Part II) as well as the condition of man entangled in the history of his country, e.g. Ya sayyidi al watan (My Homeland). All of a citizen's actions, thoughts and feelings are conditioned by the homeland. In the poem Ya sayyidi al watan (My Homeland!) he writes:
I love you like the sea...
Because you are close...
And I have joined
The vee formation of the wild doves
In the work Al-FasI al-akhir qabla al-wilada (The Last Period before Birth) amidst the tender filled admissions we encounter the words:
Reach for the final noble cities
In our minarets
There is no exile
And there is no homeland
The portrait of Bahrain is not in any way defined unambiguously by the poet: love for the soil, although truthful is a difficult feeling. The homeland in al-Jallawi's work is a well-known landscape marked with palms and blue skies, e.g. in the poem Ana min huna (I'm from Here):
A palm of snow stops him
In her hands (palms) of blue
An unbeliever on the surface
Gathered (the blue) all its strengths
The blue sky drinks
From their columns of foundation
Whole bunches of palms
Are hungry and barefooted"
This homeland is also a bad mother and a disloyal lover deserving of condemnation:
We came maintaining that:
You are the one who stole God
Man does not love here without criticism, he demands and even forces:
We celebrated your death
Until you became great
But also is just when he feels care:
They came with revenge within them
You became a child embracing the light
Of the river of all prophecies.
You are sowing a field of peace
For 'All al-Jallawi it is tradition, religion and language which defines the identity of man. These elements can constitute asylum and a safe haven in life. He calls upon Shiite symbolism: Karbala - in the poem Ana min huna (I Am from Here,Part 2) and the murdered Husayn, killed together with his people, the personification of a saint for the Shiites - in the poem An-Nubu 'a al-ula. Nubu 'at al-Husayn (The First Prophecy of Husayn). He feels an especial connection with his native tongue to which he devotes a lot of space in his works, something that is a deadly weapon from time immemorial and which is permanent and holy:
Only knives are language, young lady
So you'd better understand
For although I do not know how
It was pulled, wounded
And on the cross spread
It remains constant
Man, in al-Jallawi, is contained only in language, he is it, he does not possess any other means of expression. In the face of fluctuation, the instability of traditional values, language becomes a haven:
I don't know
If I or the words
In the difficult relationship with his own country the poet's attitude refracts and polarizes two extremes. The first is loneliness, escape to peace:
We sent back
As we moved
To the trenches of silence
How can I divide
Between my presence in fire
The second is a sense of unity and a call for revolution:
People come with angel-
That which combines the body of anger with the fire of anger
And combines anger with anger
'All al-Jallawi emphasizes in his poems the wide cultural-historical context. He calls not only upon the figure of Husayn but also on the half legendary king Gilgamesh who allegedly reached Bahrain in order to drink the waters of immortality. The figure of Gilgamesh is to be found also in the cultural heritage of Iraq where he is a symbol of the power of the ancient Sumerian state.
In the volume of poetry, entitled Wajhan li-imra'a wahida (The Two Faces of One Woman), 'All al-Jallawi extols love for his motherland and women, for a woman, according to him, is the motherland and the motherland a woman. The poems are written under the influence of the language of the Koran, though that said they are not religious in character. The poet deals with taboo subjects i.e. sex and eroticism, expressing in them a wealth of feelings, sensations and emotions. Love overcomes all:
I can even become an enemy of my own tribe out of my love for you
They said: She enchanted him and he died bewitched
And they said: I went mad for her
She filled my lips with the wine of hers
Love is described in an unusually artistic way as hot feelings demanding devotion, sacrifice and offerings. Al-Jallawi's works are characterized by a semantic duality, for the author refers in them both to the motherland and a yearning for its freedom. The volume is unusually mature for such a young poet who was a mere nineteen when writing the poems.
The majority of the pieces possess no punctuation, here and there appearing as if randomly. Let the words of Michal Glowinski serve here as evaluation: "resignation from stopping is only protection money paid to fashion, if one could add to the empty spaces commas, full stops, semicolons etc. nothing fundamental would change".
The syncretism of the various types of utterance appear in a mixture of direct and indirect lyrics. For example in the poem Ya sayyidi al-watan (My Homeland!) one can discern elements of lyrical monologue, invocative lyrics and lyrics of a collective subject:
Who is now going to be braver than me
And announce that the land which we have in our blood
Was not a standard
Who struck the wound
With a fossilized memory
Who again will inflict injury
Teaches silence and speech
My sick country
At least it doesn't have a cold
Who now will turn
Notebooks into seagulls
And then descend to the water
Like a child liberated
From the yoke and divisions...
All of these together with the numerous ellipses that do not reveal the subject for the course of the entire poem, through the simultaneous introduction of new figures, creates its own kind of chaos conducive to the style of prophecy though making the text's reception fur the reader all the harder.
'Ali al-Jallawi utilizes synecdoche (e.g. a "palm" instead of an entire landscape appears many times in various poems), or metonymy (he calls a horse simply "neighing").
He uses the comparisons: of a "fatherland to a child", or "carrion to fire". In order to strengthen the suggestiveness he uses personification: "the hands of the palm", "the shoulders of time" and animism: "the mouth dries", "the blade sprouts".
The poet dreams of a city of poets but not in a Utopian way like in Plato or Al-Farabi where everyone is free to express his own thoughts. He has transferred his desires into the works contained in the volumeAl-Madina al-akhira (The Last City).The whole work was dedicated to his friend Isa who was condemned to death and with whom the poet spent time in prison. A continuation of the subject matter of a perfect city is to be found in the two volumes of poetry entitled Dilmuniyyat (Things from Dilmun).
'Ali al-Jallawi's poetry falls outside any concrete concepts and cannot be closed within certain frameworks. It deals with a wide range of subject matters, failing to offer a single solution. It stimulates the association and imagination of the reader encouraging cooperation. The content of the works plays a far greater role for the poet than does the form, and the poetic images are saturated with reflection and intellectualism.
Letters for Those to be Slain
They left nothing but the violet
Creeping over the fence of the house;
It moves confidently to their letterbox
And takes the pulse of my letter.
How the sugar has gone down!
They left nothing at home but the home.
She was dropping words into the meaning
And ascending in the poem
Opening the window for the trees.
My neighbour became angry;
Her trees were missing.
The horse ascends two floors of song
And the orchard takes off from the day that follows.
She was alone hunting her cloud