Saturday, March 24, 2007

First Poet

Girl in a Water Taxi, ©Alan Pogue, Basra, 1998.
A young girl rides along one of the tributaries of the Shatt al Arab.

Enheduanna Wrote on Stone

“Born ca. 2300 B.C., Enheduanna was a moon priestess, daughter of King Sargon of Agade [Iraq], who reigned over the world’s first empire, extending from the Mediterranean to Persia. Enheduanna is the first writer, male or female, in history whose name and work have been preserved. Her personal history survives in highly political poems. We have a stone disk which contains a detailed likeness of the high priestess, revealing her particular features and dress, flanked by three of her retainers. The poetry we have has been preserved on cuneiform tablets.” Quotation above and within text are taken from adaptations by Aliki and Willis Barnstone of “The Exaltation of Inanna,” Yale Univ. Press, 1968 by William W. Hallo and J.J. A Van Dijk.

Enheduanna wrote on stone.
The first poet known to western scholars was a woman
who wrote political poetry, a woman who gathered symbols,
mysterious and strange for us to see, a woman
who cut clay glyphs in order to catch thought,
cut stone words to throw at the goddess,
How dull and heavy the medium, sculpture
to chase fleet passages of mind, heartbeat.

She said:

Like a dragon you have filled the land with venom. Like thunder when you roar over the earth, trees and plants fall before you. You are a flood descending from a mountain, O primary one, Moon Goddess Inanna of heaven and earth! Your fire blows about and drops on our nation, Lady mounted on a beast. An gives you these qualities, holy commands, but you decide. You are in all our great rites. Who can understand you?

Enheduanna wrote on stone,
questions about divinity and human suffering,
questions about the vibrant green of spring,
the black green of thunder, the violent green
of torrent, mountain emptying into ocean,
wars so violent earth trembled —

She said:

Storms lend you winds, destroyer of the lands. For you the rivers rise high with blood and the people have nothing to drink. The army of the mountain goes to you captive of its own accord.

Her stone words fall out of history, pour and tumble,
rough and fierce, into our lives.
It has always been so.
I have been singing this song for so long
my tongue grows thick, numb, cold and sullen,
snake hair, stone face, over and over,
since there were words
we have used them to unmask savage gods.

She said:

You have lifted your foot and left their barn of fertility. The women of the city no longer speak of love with their husbands. At night they do not make love. They are no longer naked before them, revealing intimate treasures.

Words are fast now, fast words:
Words: Deny the violent gods.
Words: Leap through the fire of your soul.
Words: Conquest kills passion.

Words are fast now—
fly from river to sky, continent to ocean, parent to child,
page to heart. In an instant, the entire world could change
its mind. Everything is possible, planets converge,
populations emerge, change, revolt, but it doesn’t do any good—

We worship violent gods.
Enheduanna wrote on stone.
That is what she said.
She said we worship violent gods.

© Susan Bright, 1987

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Announcement: The Plain View Press e-store has just gone online.

For those of you in Austin: Plain View Press is hosting an African Art and Fabric exhibit today, Saturday, March 24th. Open till Dark. Call for directions: 512 441 2452


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