Magazine article World Literature Today

The Silence That Remains

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Silence That Remains

Article excerpt

Ghassan Zaqtan. The Silence That Remains. Trans. Fady Joudah. Port Townsend, Washington. Copper Canyon Press. 2017. 255 pages.

In the preface to Ghassan Zaqtan's The Silence That Remains, translator Fady Joudah tells the reader: "To have memory and to articulate memory are two different things. . . . The more one attempts to capture memory and enunciate it, the more one is resigned to an endless task" Zaqtan writes in the caesura between memory and recollection, endlessly cataloging imperfectly rendered experience in the poems of this fine collection, capably rendered and introduced to English readers by Joudah (see WLT, March 2016, 31-36).

Joudah describes Zaqtan as a kind of "art historian" of his own experience, and many of the spare poems of this collection engage memory in the manner of black-and-white photographs: they emphasize by shadow or absence; they frame what can be recollected, leaving plenty of room for that which remains outside the frame to speak. In "Their Absence," Zaqtan writes, "And what remains / but little little / and their shirts / fabric that spreads on trees / and their shirts // banners that tug / only at trees // and are not retrieved."

The poems of this collection are grounded in the quotidian-ashtrays, handkerchiefs, the timbre of a village accent "good for reading, singing, and seduction when I drink." Emanating from these artifacts of dailiness, Zaqtan poses the question that best defines his poetics, captured in the epigraph to The Heroism of Things, which is included in this collection; "I'm mystified / how do I / rearrange the poem / everything's been said. …

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