Dear Dr. Poetry

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The Revolution Happened And You Didn’t Call Me
Maged Zaher
TinFish Press, September 2012
67 pages
$15.00

Dear Dr. Poetry,

I’ve been occupying Wall Street continuously since September 2011. Since we lost Zuccotti Park, I’ve been sneaking into Goldman Sachs’ offices at night to sleep standing up behind a filing cabinet or large ficus. I’m growing concerned that my twitter feed has not penetrated the social consciousness deeply enough. Is there anything poetry can do?

—Militant Anarcho-Communist Under Sachs’ Executive Regime

Actually, MAC USER, there’s nothing poetry can’t do, and your question is especially timely because I just finished reading its answer: Maged Zaher’s new book of experimental prose poems, The Revolution Happened And You Didn’t Call Me, which deals with the inadequacies of language in an unstable political and cultural landscape. Mostly set in Cairo during the current revolution, Zaher draws an immediate parallel to T.S. Eliot’s dark, off-the-wall free verse in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

In a city under deconstruction, where ghosts come and go, throwing stones at Michelangelo.

Zaher’s book has similar notes of discomfit and weariness as “Prufrock,” but Zaher innovates on this classic with post-modernist sensibilities, exploring Cairo through a fragmented lens. The speaker pieces together a mosaic of musings and ground reports, verging on surreal, that are tinged with a deep sense of longing, some guilt, some desire, and the tension he feels between staying in Cairo and returning to the States.

Signs of military presence are treated as landmarks, and though we know the social landscape isn’t “normal,” the flux is presented as the new daily life. What we hear in the poems is the post-raucousness of change: “In a city under heavy rebranding / There are bearded men / And lovers / Walking to McDonald’s / (The one next to the armored vehicle).” It’s a curious juxtaposition, MAC USER, not unlike your sleeping behind executive filing cabinets.

Though there is a singular speaker throughout, he rarely makes his presence felt; the self feels removed, making for a largely objective experience. What we do feel— what the speaker feels—is the struggle to translate his experience and to find language that accurately captures the nuances of this confusing but exhilarating time:

Antigone shaken
I am washing her language
Under mild pressure

*

I am washing my language
Under mild pressure

*

I am washing my language
Without the necessary ear plugs

So, MAC USER, I believe that your twitter feed has not effected change because we still live in a world that distrusts language and knows that it can be readily manipulated. Sort of like the old adage “make it new,” you must make your language pure again. As Zaher warns us, in closing: “Beware of leaving your language attended by fellow shoddy passengers / it is a world at risk of being lied to any moment.”