Wednesday, May 25, 2005
This morning dawns with news that the pampered and mostly illiterate Saudi princes have taken a page from the Laura Bush handbook on silencing troublesome poets with their May 15th sentencing of a 56 year-old poet and author, Ali al-Dimeeni, to nine years in prison for “for sowing dissent, disobeying his rulers and sedition”.
Freedom's Envoy in Egypt
Mrs. Bush, whose poetry-free diplomatic portfolio has expanded recently, must, this morning, feel a certain Stalinist pride for her own efforts to crush the pesky thoughts of unbowed poets.
It was only two years ago, on the eve of her Saudi hand-holding hubby’s Shock and Awe opening to an illegal war begun on false pretences, that the former librarian was planning a February 12, 2003 White House Poetry Symposium on the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman entitled Poetry and the American Voice.
Thanks to an archived copy of a February 9, 2003 report published by the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune stored on fact.trib.com, my refreshed memory can state that the First Lady slipped on her steel boot after the organizing efforts of Symposium invitee Sam Hamill, poet and co-founder of Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend, Washington.
On the day following his reading of a “lengthy report” on the Bush administration’s plan for a Dresden-like firebombing of Iraq operationally titled Shock and Awe, Mr. Hamill’s White House invitation appeared in the mail and he felt compelled to compose an email to friends and fellow poets:
I felt no joy…I was overcome with a kind of nausea as I read the card enclosed: 'Laura Bush requests the pleasure of your company at a reception and White House Symposium on Poetry and the American Voice’…I believe the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam. I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country…we will compile an anthology of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon. Please submit your name and a poem or statement of conscience to the Poets Against the War Web site [and] pass along this letter to any poets you know.
Soon, more than 4,600 poets responded to Hamill’s email.
Twenty-five volunteer editors worked “virtually around the clock” to gather the submitted poems, arriving at a rate of one per minute, into a coherent form.
As quick as it takes to scan a dissenting couplet, Mrs. Bush cancelled the event and the compliant corporate press ensured the organized protest vanished as quickly as an Argentine high school student under the rule of the generals.
Meanwhile back in the illiterate and intolerant Kingdom of the sex-crazed Saudi royals, the Wahhabi-born al-Dimeeni has been joined in his prison outside Riyadh by two Saudi scholars sentenced to seven and six year jail terms.
The harsh sentences given to al-Dimeeni and the scholars have drawn “international condemnation and astonished Arab literary and reform circles for its severity.”
An indication of how al-Dimeeni will occupy his time in prison can be gleaned from his novel “A Grey Cloud”.
The novel’s hero, also jailed for dissent, describes what meets his eyes when they become accustomed to his jail cell’s gloom:
I was startled by the inscriptions on the walls, which belonged to people I know and thinkers whose books I had read.
We can take some small comfort that Mrs. Bush’s self-imposed and censored bubble is, perhaps, more intellectually isolated than Mr. al-Dimeeni’s prison cell.
Dangerous words: Easy With Eyes Closed