Art across the Middle East
Fawzi Karim is a poet of international stature. Exiled from Saddam’s Iraq, he has been living in London since 1978. You can either be a poet or a Baathist but you can’t be both, is a statement that sums up his view according the journalist Elena Lapin. This could be extended to cover any view where a political or religious agenda is paramount. In an article of Shelley, Alan Tate suggests a formula: the will over the imagination, or the imagination over the will. Where the will dominates, the poetry must suffer. This is also true, surely, of researchers in science or cultural studies who have decided what they intend to prove before embarking on their experiments or field work.
Karim’s poetry is predominantly informed by his perceptions and his imagination rather than by any wish to put across a programme. The poetry is modernist, reminding me of T. S. Eliot and the great Greek poet George Seferis. Like them he can combine the freedom of conversational contemporaneity with the austerities of a classical diction.
It is a poetry of imagery and of juxtaposition, through which runs a leitmotif of loss and exile. In the territory of his homeland, the masked soldiers of all times “have woven a history like a fishing-net that has unravelled in stagnant water.” His “waste-land” has a physical as well as a spiritual reality.