April National Poetry Month

To live life like a poem or a prayer. This includes periods of silence, reflection, prayer, poetry and solitude. During those pauses between words like King David’s psalms, selah. Here is what ‘selah’ means

Selah a word frequently found in the Book of Psalms, and also in Hab. 3:9, 13, about seventy-four times in all in Scripture. Its meaning is doubtful. Some interpret it as meaning “silence” or “pause;” others, “end,” “a louder strain,” “piano,” etc. The LXX. render the word by daplasma i.e., “a division.”

Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary

I find myself often in the company of other poets, some of whom are angry at God, disbelieve and argue that He does not exist or have a text book understanding or westernized experience of other religions that they are enamoured with. Some place an emphasis on sexuality and their experience with sex and gender. These confessional poets often tell a compelling personal story. Their poetry is an embodiment of the contemporary American voice. We all have our cries of the heart & spirit. Hearing each other, hollows our hearts and hallows our faith.

For myself, the need to define myself, for myself, as a poet, drives me to seek solitidue. In my time of reflection, I reconcile with the thoughts and ideas of other poets and seek to find my own. Selah.

I do meet anti-war poets who craft their polemic into a poem adding to their words the weight of their political opinions against the current administration. Selah. Here again I must pause. None of the poets I encounter have experienced either the kind of oppression or the contradictions or conflicts with law and conscience that Islam brings to the table in an Islamic country. Are all the wars we fight or are drawn into similar? Is Iraq like Vietnam or do we have to pause as poets to contemplate the battle that is being fought? Terror or oil? Is it a quest to enable democracy or is it imperialism? Americans must ponder these questions for themselves. Selah. And I.

I know that as a poet, I needed to take flight from my Islamic homeland to perch on the branch of a tree here in America to collect my birdsong and sing! There are dues to be paid, even in this free land, and painfully as I draw my wings across my body and clear my throat…selah. So far, a fistful of poems…..it would appear that that fistful, ‘Loving My Land, Dying Inside’, published in the New Internationalist, May 2002 issue is nothing in itself but a fistful but I know, myself that the God who has led me to these United States of America has purposed something in His heart.

I never saw myself as a political poet. God knows I did not set out to be one! A writer, a published successful writer, yes, but not the kind of poet who struggles in mind and spirit so. I was one who yearned for freedom, yes, even as a Hindu-Tamil- Malaysian child in Assunta Secondary School: writing thus on the back of a school exercise book:

“I wish I were a spirit, wandering free and flying high
Unlocking the mysteries of the world, unfolding the secrets of time
Oh, if I only were a spirit, I’d leave everything be
And sing! sing! of the rhapsody of life!”
but never a ‘freedom fighter’ or one who would speak out and up against oppression and injustice. In my own strength, I am too fearful of repercussions from the Malaysian government to address the poetic and political considerations inherent in that fistful of poems, but having written it, and having deliberated over sending it forth and finally seeing it published…tells me something. The journey…..

God is a God of justice. We cannot claim to worship the one true God if we believe that our ethnic background or religion qualifies us for some special status or privilege before God. Yes. God does extend a special privilege to us when we honor Him and that is ‘favor’. He surrounds us with favor then as a shield but this is favor conferred by the most high God. We cannot make it happen. It happens. We can work for it, pray for it, hope for it but the time of that favor being conferred is something we must wait for. The God of the Bible states that God is no respector of persons and this means that Muslims in Malaysia must address their special privileges within Malaysia and give it up in order to gain it back. Do we, as Malaysians, have faith enough to give up religion so we might gain in essence, God?

Last night, I watched a video of American soldiers wounded in Iraq, returning to their families. I saw what causes me again and again to fall in love with America and Americans. If you disregard the media representations of Americans in entertainment, you will see an unusually optimistic, resilient, ordinary people who distinguish themselves with one specific and admirable human trait that even biblically ‘covers a multitude of sins‘- love. We watched definitions of marriage, love and committment from young American couples, not neccessarily people of faith, who show a deep and abiding, difficult love for each other. One young soldier returning from Iraq eschews the pills prescribed for PTSD and seeks again the abiding love of a companion who walks with him. His words on the video about her, and the potrait of an American woman that I gained from him about her spoke volumes to me about the American woman today. Her true spirit. His true spirit. Here I found true poetry. Selah. How to find the words….to tell myself and this world, the beauty of a people who love?

I find also myself having to pause, selah, silence…..in order to understand the difference between a poem carefully crafted to embody a current Americanism or a polemic and a poem that is a singular expression of the poet’s heart in response to what he or she sees and experiences and wishes to communicate to others. We can take a stance against the war and proliferate the air with anti war/anti administration cries, but my feeling is that the true poet, American or British or Canadian or Asian or African must pause…to look up!

March was a busy month for me as I was a poet/panelist at ‘Writers On War’ : “How To Write The Political During A Time of war” with Nick Arvin, author of “Articles of War”, Esquire magazine Book of the year, winner of the Colorado Book Award and the Boyd Award for Military Fiction and Rawdon Tomlinson, Colorado Book Award Winner in Poetry, author of Geranimo After Kas-ki-yeh (L.S.U Press) and winner of 2004 Birmingham Poetry Review Prize. Here again, in conversation with other writers and the community, I
had to pause. Selah.

April, National Poetry Month is full of poetry. May some of this poetry touch our wounded hearts with His Love.


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