9Different ways of showing the self-imposition of images are the dense accumulation of objective data not emotionally connoted (the poet mentions the bare facts of hacking to death and nailing to a doorway) and the specification of figures. The poet extensively and numbingly reports the number of casualties: “A massacre of eight hundred thousand/ During the last hundred days is reported […] the dead/ Number over ten thousand” (Into It 59), “At least twelve massacred/ one hundred forty-seven houses and the church destroyed” (Codes 94), and “the suicide car bombing killing twelve,/ wounding thirteen” (Into It 54). The plain integration of information and numbers as well as the detached statement of facts are related to us by the voice of the other which has previously and incomprehensibly registered them. 10The following, almost scientific, lines employ seemingly real-life data and thus almost echo a criminal investigation. It is an account which methodically examines the very particulars of the damage caused by the slicing of the eye:
A report, according to the government official, forty-two
forced into the church and hacked to death with axes on the altar,
accounts confirmed by government officials, a five-year old boy
discovered nailed to a doorway in the form of a cross. (Codes 93)
An inch-long piece of steel,
part of the artillery’s shell’s
casing, sliced through the right eye
into his brain, severely damaging
the optic nerve of his left eye,
spraying bone splinters
into the brain. (Into It 44)
No poetry collection by Joseph waives the insistent and frequent appearance of raw violence. Instead, intolerable accounts of tortured and maimed bodies are supplied. The poet evokes the “shrapnel [he] saw in his cousin’s stomach” (Codes 28) or “the niece’s head severed with bullets” (91). Dead bodies “left in a ditch to die” (28), crushed bones, “skulls, and jawbones and pelvises of children” (95), “the stump of a leg” (Into It 41), “the baby photographed with half a head” (38) are all pieces of evidence for the horrors of war. The victims’ disembodiment is completed by the picture of the “the dust of a dust storm;/ yellow, black, brown, haze, smoke” (38) and the description of the smell “of burned human flesh” (38). What Joseph’s verse actually does is arrange and conflate the various limbs of corpses into dreadful paintings powerfully forcing themselves upon the mind.11At other times, trauma is not rendered by the self-imposition of events and images from which it originates but by the composition taking the shape of a continuous elegiac monologue. Assailed by both the rising number of losses and the cruelty of the killings, the persona is engrossed in a delirious talk. He assumes a conversational tone, observing and pondering over the situation:
I saw that. One woman, her personality
And appearance described as lovely,
While performing her predawn prayers,
Watched the attackers shoot to death her husband,
Her seven-year old son, three of her brothers,
as they grabbed her four-year-old from her arms
and cut his throat, taking her and her two sisters
away on horses and raping. Of course it’s genocide. (Into It 12)
This passage stands in sharp contrast to the previous journalistic reports and provides us with “responses to facts” (Game Changed 7). Joseph, who claims to be a disciple of Wallace Stevens, insists on the retort that a poet inevitably makes to the circumstances of his existence. Stevens himself declared that poems are “the speeches from the drama of the time in which he is living” (qtd. in Game Changed 122). And Joseph responds in such an extensive way that sometimes “the facts can scarcely get into the poems at all” (Game Changed 7). Some of the speaker’s musings are not connected to the facts that have fostered them, and the absence of correlation makes the reader wonder about the orientation that will be taken by the reflexive monologue and the original events that caused traumatic damage.12The meanderings of the erratic talk that the persona is lost to are disclosed through a particular poetic form. Indeed, the external pressure provoked by war situations permeates the condensed blocks of lines which marginalize the conventional stanza in a majority of poems to express the mourning and the wailing over the victims. “In the Beginning Was Lebanon” (Codes 95) takes such liberties. It covers Lebanon’s history and extends over its Muslim and Christian massacres in a single poem-long stanza. 13In Joseph’s poetry, these blocks often combine with short lines to visually configure the horrors of war. In the following extract, the lines collapse, speeding up the rhythm to articulate the tragic outcome:
in Haifa suffocated
resisting her parents’
efforts to fasten
her gas mask. I waited
up all night for it. (Codes 167)
The alternation of longer and indented lines may express the fastening and unfastening of the gas mask or the efforts of the parents to fasten it in light of the child’s persistent resistance. What is equally interesting is the injection in the poem of the final infant’s suffocation through the consonance of the [f] sound (“efforts to fasten”).14Even when couplets and quatrains make up a poem, the untamed lines weigh on us by their intensity and velocity. Upton characterizes Joseph’s verse as “pressurized narratives” (799), with poems “structured so that they arrive with something close to physical weight for some readers” (800) as well as a pressure that is “never released or dispersed but contained and in circulation” (812) so that “the mind is imprinted with the felt pressure of psychic trauma” (809). “Rubaiyat” (Codes 93) is invested with such a brewing tension. It runs on from one line to another and affects us with a pressure which reflects the speaker’s internal turmoil in sight of the wracked and torn societies:
All the stories about killing, burned bones, the smoke
from burning bones, a body tied by a rope fastened to a Mercedes
flying above the ground, cut-up body in a nylon bag,
black hoods, hallucinations, stylized hair and pure gold chains.
Once again, sound effects serve meaning, and the bloody massacres resonate through the alliteration of the [b] sound. “Burned bones,” “burning bones,” and “body” convey in unison the compelling image of the blood spilled, eliciting in the reader a horrified response.15The different poetic forms coexist with a noteworthy usage of punctuation and syntax to represent war violence and to voice the tension which haunts the speaker: syntactic fragmentation suspends the reader’s attention at the level of individual sentences and prompts him to ponder over the different fragments of his delirium. In “Rubaiyat” (Codes 93), the string of indirect questions violates the common use of punctuation and defies grammatical rules to attempt at delineating the unspeakable and the inaccessible of war and war trauma:
16Many independent questions such as: Why would one want names and numbers? Who induced people to hate and whom? What are the original reasons for the hostilities? jostle in this quatrain. It is the function of this confusing amalgamation to suggest that it is complicated, if not hopeless, to reach a meaningful answer. Another pertinent example is the following set of lines in which the body’s disintegration is inscribed in the text through the syntactic fracture and the broken rhythm:
And what do you think you’re doing when you want the names
and the years of history, who begot whom and who made
which flesh which words that hate for which particular reasons
that compel the pride of horrors of the oppressed?
At dinner, a cousin
describes his niece’s head
severed in bullets, in Beirut,
in civil war. (Codes 91)
A few passages dismiss punctuation altogether. The one below taken from “Lines Imagined Translated into a Foreign Language” (Codes 164) does without comma altogether, thereby uninterruptedly sketching the rough traits and colors of a hallucinated war-scape:
And then the logic of war
succeeded the night
the day bright lemon
winter sky thinned
to cold peach
no visible polestar
at the horizon’s end
the Sea of Samarra
outlined before us
a breach of Asia Minor
incandescent before us.
Trauma impregnates the poem through hallucinatory visions. The voice unpredictably and subversively transubstantiates the traumatic, the violent, and the barbarous into the stunning and the magnificent. It may at first be complicated for the reader to visualize and realize the full scope of either the metaphoric and antithetic “blossoming fire-bombs” (Codes 22) or the apocalyptic vision of a war scene in Iraq supplied in “Lines Imagined Translated into a Foreign Language” (164):
tears, we hear
no sense of terribleness
or sorrow, nothing
only immense excitement
when the attack
begins, blocks of light
arc of laser-guided
around the open night.
every bomb seems to be
Both aforementioned passages focus on stage lights and colors to aestheticize the bomb explosions. The transfiguration of the brutal scene into a colorful and luminous image is one process through which trauma reappears. Sorrow and melancholy, which are proper to the elegiac form, are replaced by the “excitement/ when the attack/ begins,” leaving the reader with what seems to be a spectacular show.17Of course, poetry cannot be the perfect therapy for psychic wounds—especially not in a world where the modern self is assailed by an everyday violence. Yet, poetry is perhaps one of the ideal forms to help indicate trauma. Joseph sets himself the challenge to both depict phenomena which are likely to resist representation and to grapple with subject matters whose nature is fundamentally inexpressible and inassimilable. Poetry endeavors to say the unsaid, the concealed, and the repressed, hereby combatting the silencing. It gives a voice to ghosts. It summons and retrieves forgotten people. It partially compensates for lost lives. It struggles against death and nothingness. It exhumes the corpses which were not decently buried and to whom no tribute was paid. It ritually exposes, celebrates, and erects epitaphs for them to be commemorated. Poetry attempts to acknowledge the “traceless traces” (Radstone 20) of trauma and is one of the “modes of representation better suited to the “unrepresentability” of trauma (21). Poetic threnodies—such as Joseph’s—need to be read because, on the one hand, they proficiently capture pictures of people torn and worn by warfare and because, on the other hand, they fiercely argue for peace. The poet’s response to death and destruction is instantiated by the creation of life and the experimentation with verse. He sets himself the mission to write because “what [he does not] write/ will not exist” (Into It 52). He writes because not writing war and trauma poetry would be a crime against humanity. “[What] is in us is remembered […] in thoughts and in images,/ to give expression to.” (52)
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