They always kill me
For this workshop, we were honoured to be joined not only by both Bryar Bajalan and Shook (the translators of Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s latest collection A Friend’s Kitchen), but also the poet himself! This was an incredibly rich session and we were often grateful to hear clarifications directly from Al-Raddi’s mouth.
Ultimately, we felt this was a poem about poetry and its dangers. Knowing the story of Al-Raddi’s exile and of the imprisonment of many of his journalist friends in Sudan may help to make sense of ‘They always kill me’. Far from providing solace, music kills. And is it worth it? All the poet can be is a finger sewing a ‘fleeting’ song.
It might not all be so dark. In the middle of the poem, boys balance on the wall of the girls’ school. Bryar told us it’s normal for boys to throw down notes and love poems to get the girls’ attention, and both he and Al-Raddi claimed to have started their poetic careers doing just this! There is perhaps some wry humour in these lines around the dangers of love, though Bryar did note the genuine risk involved in scaling a wall – his school was fenced with barbed wire.
We spent about half an hour discussing the final two lines, especially the use of ‘as if’: does this hypothetical negate what follows, or suggest it is true? I think it does both, and so when Al-Raddi says ‘as if I’m a finger not sewing / a fleeting song’, he leaves intentionally unclear what is true and untrue, happening and not happening.
Everything I’ve written here is just one interpretation – the beauty of Al-Raddi’s work is that it can be read in a number of ways and contexts. What is certainly true is that this workshop gave us all a deep appreciation for the work and artistry that has gone into translating A Friend’s Kitchen, which we highly recommend you read.
Helen Bowell, Poet Facilitator