Takoma Park, Md.
I was surprised and thrilled to come upon “Untitled,” a poem by Tchicaya u Tam’si, also known as Gerard-Felix Tchicaya [Jan. 11/18]. His poetry became part of my life my senior year at Oberlin, 1982-83, thanks to a wonderful literary translation course I took, for which I ended up translating a series of u Tam’si’s poems from French into English. Having been to Zaire twice (where it turns out u Tam’si began working the year I was born), because my father worked for Unesco, I became interested in Zairois writers. Reading “Untitled” brought me back to how much I enjoyed the forceful use of emotional and visual images to evoke political and cultural ponderings, passion, reverie and more.
I was never sure I fully “understood” the poems, but it didn’t, and doesn’t, matter. Thank you for sharing some of u Tam’si’s vibrant spirit with your readers.
‘Cut the Theme Music’
According to Eric Alterman [“Focus on Israel,” Jan. 11/18], colonialism and occupation are simply problems of human friendship, to be solved when Palestinians and Israelis join hands, look into each others’ eyes and say “Hey, until now I didn’t know you were human.” Imagine the black population living under apartheid in South Africa being instructed to just (cue the AT&T theme song) “reach out and touch someone,” and the problems of colonialism and oppression magically evaporate.
Alterman assumes a referee status between right and left thinkers on the conflict, when actually he is a sweet-talker for one of the longest-running, most brutal occupations in history. Eric, cut the theme music. Let’s work to end the confiscation of land, eviction of families from East Jerusalem, unequal distribution of resources and illegal imprisonment. Then we might wake to a world where human beings, allotted an equal humanity and self-determination, can share and flourish.
If Eric Alterman’s point is that it is hypocritical to vilify Israelis, or that they are making some good films these days, I agree. However, his larger point reminded me of the way my parents used to think about the South, where they lived in the postwar years. Southern attitudes toward race struck them as surprisingly varied. My parents were friends with whites who were shocked by lynch justice and touchingly partisan for the black folk, whom they knew affectionately. How ignorant and unjust, thought my father, to condemn the white South in sweeping terms. As far as I know, none of them took part in the civil rights movement.