Review of Poems from Guantánamo

We’ve got something a little bit different this week at The Quarterly Conversation: on the eve of the second anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, we take a look at Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, a 2007 volume of poetry from Guantánamo.

As George Fragopoulos says in his consideration of what this book continues to mean, it’s a wonder that it even exists. You may recall that when the book was published, there was a flap about danger to national security and censorship; to quote the U.S. military, “poetry . . . presents a special risk, and DoD [Department of Defense] standards are not to approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language.”

Here’s a little bit of George’s answer to what this book tells us three years after its publication:

The anthology can be placed within a long-standing tradition of prison literature and, as Flagg Miller writes in his insightful introduction to the collection, “Forms of Suffering in Muslim Prison Poetry,” alongside a rich variety of Arabic and Islamic poetics and poetries: “From the earliest days of Islam’s rise among world religions in the seventh century, poetry has provided a steady moral compass for Muslims.” Miller goes on to illustrate the varied connections that exist between poetry and politics. The idea, to give but one example, is that language—here “vernacular Arabic”—can be used as a means for aesthetic and political dissent. This is important to note for two reasons: in the United States it has become convenient to obscure and conflate political motives with religious ones, thus summarily removing any reasoned discussion of the global climate that allowed for the horrific crimes perpetrated on 9/11 to be committed in the first place. We also tend to eagerly dismiss the potential for works of art to speak to us in a political manner.


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