Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Comment on Omar Sakr's new volume of poetry

On Omar Sakr’s The Lost Arabs (UQP, 2019)

Omar Sakr's new volume of poetry The Lost Arabs is a remarkable and essential work. In a disenfranchised and dislocated country of flesh and spirit, Omar Sakr shows us ways to reclaim, how to hear and maybe hear beyond the 'barking angels', the brutality of dispossession and familial disconnection. But he also offers us various routes through to family, to articulations of justice, to the deepest empathies which come out of stress and loss, and into places where we have to recognise and acknowledge the trauma of communities whose intactness is under constant pressure, and often violent assault. He shows alienation as an imposition of power structures, and he speaks from edges where he knows his own fate and all our fates are determined by conflict over other people's spaces. He writes: 'Like any land I have been fought over with some claiming to love me/ more than others, some who are of me and some who are invaders, new comers.'

What 'tonally' highlights in Sakr's poetry, is an empathy in irony — the control over his fraught yet beautiful language to show horror and defy the inflictors of that horror with an understanding of the complexity of the journeys that come before us and that are part of who we are. And, equally, there's also irony in empathy — privilege makes the ability to mourn and to 'protect' more viable but more hollow, and privilege is always contested in these pages. The 'American Spring' is the grim counterpoint to the western construct of the 'Arab Spring', and the frozen sensibilities, the defamiliarised empathies which substitute a western-colonial consumer hope for another, are laid bare.  If 'forgetting has a survival value', Omar Sakr can hear this, but he won't survive it fully, and in not surviving it fully shows us that unless we let language make necessary change there can be no survival at all, that language will be lost. Also, in this singing of language reforming under stress and offering ways through to an understanding, there is the beauty of 'aloneness' which never diminishes community and its myriad intensities and complexities.

This is not an easy journey on which to accompany this remarkable poet, but join him and see how anger can bring compassion, and how compassion can show why there is anger. The Lost Arabs offers ways not only into Omar Sakr's personal poetics and psyche, but into a polyphonous sense of community and communities.

John Kinsella

Friday, April 19, 2019

Vegan Rights in Prison (on the denial of vegan food to a vegan animal rights activist in a Western Australian prison)

This kind of abuse by the state, and its punitive arms, that targets and oppresses those who practise ethical abstention from meat-eating, is of the same order as a long history of oppressions against difference. Unless all of us, no matter what attitudes held toward veganism, stand up for people’s rights to be fed and clothed in a manner that accords with their deep-held beliefs — such as people who object to the usage and exploitation of animals — it is akin to disrespecting different cultural practice or religious belief. It is different, and it is the same. To leave someone to starve because they refuse to eat meat, or foods affected by meat, is a denial of life rights, and will one day be seen as the extreme persecution it is. We stand by this peaceful protester’s rights of choice, and whatever someone’s perceived crimes are, to deny them their rights of conscience is to deny them their humanity. If prisons and authorities treat people like this, it’s on a continuum with how animals are treated. Such deliberate deprivation is hate on a level that all should condemn, whatever their beliefs.

And as for the far-right West Australian newspaper and its aggressive and provocative coverage of the issue — the use of ‘notorious’ and ‘vegan’ in the same article speaks of their agenda of exploitation, violence and oppression.

Here are some links on approaches to the rights of vegans in prison in the UK; the second is a general page at the UK Vegan Society which includes a link to their booklet on providing vegan food for both prisoners and staff.

John Kinsella