Remembering Salah Ahmed Ibrahim, an Avant Garde Pioneer of Sudanese Poetry

Salah’s sympathy for the less privileged and downtrodden comes perfectly naturally in its outpouring. And another wish: O Maria,I wish I were sitting at the top of Olympus,with lovely girls around,and all the inspiration I needsipping from the pure wine of Bacchus.When the wine sends me into raptures,I call out in delight:O girls!Take your harps and softly play at the stringsand let us hear songsfor Maria. Forget about the foolish gods,Tell them they failed to respect the desire of a human soul.A paradise devoid of love is barren desert. Elegies for friends, family, and scores of obscure people feature high in his poetry. Other published translations include The   Jungo: Stakes of the   Earth, by Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin (Africa World Press, 2015),   Literary Sudans: an Anthology of Literature from Sudan and South Sudan   (Africa World Press, 2016),   The   Messiah of Darfur by Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin (excerpted in The   Los Angeles Review of Books, 2015), and a translation to Arabic of   Summer Maize, a collection of short stories by Leila Aboulela (Dar al-Musawwarat, Khartoum, 2017). Have you ever tasted the humiliation of color—Fingers pointing at you, shouting:Black slave!Black slave!Black slave!?Or one day, full of compassion,watching children at play,you almost burst out:“I love this innocent mischief!”But they ran after you, hurling chants:Black slave!Black slave!Black slave?Have you ever tasted hunger in a strange land?and slept on a damp ground, a hard bare ground?A bent arm under your head to fend off the evil cold.Your steps chased by suspicious eyes,whispers of men, and malicious winks of women,and sharp fingers,deepening the wound in your bleeding heart.Your skin color overburdening you like a permanent shame. “Mebior” is a tribute to a young man from South Sudan who died during the 1964 demonstrations against the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Abboud: Up there in the realm of light he passed away,our friend, a chap from the south called Mebior.In the morning he softly comes along like a morning breezelending joy and delight to every soulwith a shining smileand teeth lined up like a gaggle of geeseon the serene waters of the River Jour. His translations to English have appeared in   Africa World Press, Banipal, The   Los Angeles Review of Books,   Al-Dawha Magazine,   and others. From the very beginning, he presented himself as an outspoken campaigner against oppression and injustice and a strong voice in support of human rights and national aspirations. Even his romantic love poems are interlaced with allusions to identity, mythology, and Arab and African heritage. * Note: Excerpts of this article appeared in the author’s introduction to Modern Sudanese Poetry: an Anthology, University of Nebraska Press, 2019. It opens with this wish: O Maria,If I had the chisel of Phidias,the talent of a genius,and an alabaster hill in front of meI would carve, to your exact measurement,a statue of wild charm.Sending some strands down like a waterfall,keeping some to the shoulders,letting others scatter further down. Salah’s complex trajectory as a poet can be used as a mirror of major turbulences in his country and in Africa more generally. “Maria,” one of his early poems in praise of the beauty of a young Greek girl, is replete with references to Greek culture. The scenes evoke memories and feelings of nostalgia: One week after another,and I am still hungry.Hungry, but no heart seems to care.Thirsty, but no one would offer a sip.And the Nile is too far, too far.Everyone is elegantly dressed,except me, alone, heartbroken on the Eid day,mocked by the colored lights and the din,by my disturbed emotions.Alone, secluded like an Indian outcast.I remember my mother and brothers,and he who in the depths of nightrecites lengthy parts of the Quran.In my country, the faraway landfar behind the sea and the desert,where strangers are warmly welcomedand guests favoredwith the last drop of waterin the peak of summer,with the children’s dinner,or, when there is little to offer,with the last portion of boiled beans, served with warm smiles. * Adil Babikir   is a Sudanese translator into and out of English & Arabic, living now in Abu Dhabi, UAE. In “Death and Us,” a tribute to his family members whom death had snatched one after the other, Salah extends an open invitation to Death to feel free to come whenever “it craved more.” Hover over our quarters, O death.Line us up in the open.Handpick everyone noble, merry, and faithful,everyone forbearing and cheerful,openhearted, open-handed.When he warmly greets you at the door,with an inviting smile,and an immaculate heart—thrustyour nails into his chestand snatch his soul.And please, O death,whenever you crave more,do come along and be our guest,and see for yourself the living legend that we are,defeating extinction, outliving demise. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… He is the author of Modern Sudanese Poetry: an Anthology (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). By Adil Babikir Salah Ahmed Ibrahim (right) Salah Ahmed Ibrahim (1933–1993) was among Sudan’s avant-garde poets who led the transition from romanticism to social realism. Remembering Salah Ahmed Ibrahim, an Avant Garde Pioneer of Sudanese Poetry May 25, 2022May 24, 2022 by Leonie Rau For our special IN FOCUS: SUDAN section, which launched this month, scholar, writer, and translator Adil Babikir shines a light on one of Sudan’s most important poets, Salah Ahmed Ibrahim, who he says is deserving of much more recognition outside the country. His first two collections, Ghabat al-Ababnous (‘The Ebony Forest’) and Ghadbat al-Hababa’y (‘The Rage of the Hababay’), contained sensational elegies for the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, Kenyan independence fighters, and the Joudeh victims: tens of Sudanese peasants who, protesting for their rights, were held in a tiny, poorly ventilated cell where they died of suffocation: Were they a bundle of arugula,displayed for sale to the westerners in the big city,they’d have been spared the scorching heat.Instead, they’d have been carefully placed on a wet mat in the shade,their lips kept wet with sprinkled watertheir cheeks sparkling with freshness and moisture. Even at the peak of rapture, self-consciousness of his identity imposes itself on him: O Maria,I am from Africa,the Sahara and the Equator.Suns have charged me with heat,and roasted me like sacrificial lambsover the holy fire of the Magians,Scorched me into an ebony rod.I am an inflammable sulfur minethat catches fire upon smelling your inviting whisperfrom afar.O Maria,I am from Africa—impatient like a starving infant.Desperately yearning for a red apple,whoever approaches it becomes sinfulCome on in! He closes his appeal to her with an invitation: O Maria,tomorrow the winds of separation will inflate my sails.Perhaps we might not meet again,so come sign your name with firehere on my lips,and say farewell. His translation of Tayeb Salih’s   Mansi: A Rare Man in his Own Way, (Banipal Books, 2020) won the 2020 Sheikh Hamad Translation Award. “Fil Gurba” (‘In a Strange Land’), an outcry against racial discrimination, eloquently depicts the bitter feelings of estrangement in exile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *