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Jazra Khaleed’s 9mm Words

By David Varno

Our March 2010 issue, Correspondences in the Air: International Poetry, features a diverse selection of poets, and contains work that complement the recent Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by WWB editors Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris. The title comes from Kaminsky's introduction to the anthology, which refers to Anna Akhmatova's term for "moments when authors of different geographical and historical circumstances, languages, and traditions, seem to address each other in their works" (Kaminsky).

One of the most arresting poems this month comes from Jazra Khaleed, among the group of Greek poets translated by Peter Constantine. "Black Lips" follows a poet who refuses to conform, who terrorizes with words—"I dip my hands in poets’ blood / I write everything in 9 mm caliber"—who plays at martyrdom but refuses eulogy, and whose prowess cannot be contained:

You man in the street!
You portion out love in inches
Purchase love with credit cards
Trumpet your prowess
At your screen you download erections
None of you can touch my body
I paint my lips black every night

According to Constantine, in an interview he conducted with Khaleed for World Literature Today (subscription needed), "his poetry is an indictment of everything that is unfair and unjust in today's Greece."  Khaleed is also a boxer, and hails from the inner city of Athens.  Constantine goes on to cite Khaleed's poem, "Self-portrait": "I write in the name of all vagrants, barefoot indigents / Those who are last."

Read the rest of "Black Lips":

Also see the other poems translated for this issue by Peter Constantine: "Half Sleep Half Death" and "Night Does Not Fall," by Nikos Violaris; and "Hermes in Retrogression," by Yiannis Moundelas.

Published Mar 17, 2010   Copyright 2010 David Varno

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