Prison Lyrics

The blog has been quiet of late, as we finish up work on PEN America 8, about which more soon.

In the meantime, visit Verbal Privilege for a lovely post by Elizabeth-- happily pointed out by Amitava Kumar-- about the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet:

Nazim Hikmet was arrested-- not for the first time-- in January 1938. He was charged with inciting the Turkish armed forces to revolt, ostensibly because military cadets had been found reading his poems, particularly The Epic of Sheik Bedreddin, his 1936 historical-revolutionary epic. He was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison, of which he served twelve before escaping and spending the rest of his life in exile. Hikmet wrote thousands of lines of verse in prison, and circulated poems through letters to friends and family, but none of his poetry after Bedreddin was ever published again in Turkey in his lifetime.
The post also provides the full text of "In the Istanbul Detention House Yard" (plus a link to the original Turkish), of which my favorite lines (and Amitava's, too) are these:
Me and our corner grocer,
we're both mightily unknown in America.
In 2006, Human Landscapes from My Country, Hikmet's "epic novel in verse," was selected by members of PEN as one of the best translations of the year.

Elizabeth begins her post talking about another writer of prison lyrics, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and points to this long and learned essay on Faiz by Ted Genoways, editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review-- the latest issue of which has just arrived and is, as usual, pretty remarkable. It includes the art of Daniel Heyman (see picture above; click to enlarge), who sat in on interviews with former Iraqi prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib, and hurriedly recorded their faces and their words.

If you're interested in PEN's own Prison Writing Program, there are several ways to get involved.


Waldo said...

I'm glad you mentioned Heyman's work. Just yesterday I was lamenting its lack of attention thus far, which strikes me as odd, since I think it's the most brilliant thing in this issue. Perhaps it will all begin here. :)

David Haglund said...

I hope so, Waldo! It's terrific.

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