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Latest Book Review: Poems from Guantánamo

Written by eastern writer on Friday, August 10, 2007

“At last Guantánamo has found its voice.”—Gore Vidal

“Poetry, art of the human voice, helps turn us toward what we should or must not ignore. Speaking as they can across barriers actual and figurative, translated into our American tongue, these voices in confinement implicitly call us to our principles and to our humanity. They deserve, above all, not admiration or belief or sympathy—but attention. Attention to them is urgent for us.”—Robert Pinsky

“Poems from Guantánamo brings to light figures of concrete, individual humanity, against the fabric of cruelty woven by the ‘war on terror.’ The poems and poets’ biographies reveal one dimension of this officially obscured narrative, from the perspective of the sufferers; the legal and literary essays provide the context which has produced—under atrocious circumstances—a poetics of human dignity.”—Adrienne Rich

Since 2002, at least 775 men have been held in the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to Department of Defense data, fewer than half of them are accused of committing any hostile act against the United States or its allies. In hundreds of cases, even the circumstances of their initial detainment are questionable.

This collection gives voice to the men held at Guantánamo. Available only because of the tireless efforts of pro bono attorneys who submitted each line to Pentagon scrutiny, Poems from Guantánamo brings together twenty-two poems by seventeen detainees, most still at Guantánamo, in legal limbo.

If, in the words of Audre Lorde, poetry “forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change,” these verses—some originally written in toothpaste, others scratched onto foam drinking cups with pebbles and furtively handed to attorneys—are the most basic form of the art.

Marc Falkoff is an assistant professor at the Northern Illinois University College of Law and attorney for seventeen Guantánamo prisoners. Flagg Miller is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean American poet, novelist, playwright, and human rights activist who holds the Walter Hines Page Chair of Literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University.

death poem by Jumah al Dossari (mp3)
Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the “protectors of peace.”

Jumah al Dossari is a thirty-three-year-old Bahraini who has been held at Guantánamo Bay for more than five years. He has been in solitary confinement since the end of 2003 and, according to the U.S. military, has tried to kill himself twelve times while in custody.

Audio Files:
Listen to poems:


Readings by Joan Kjaer and David Hamilton. Copyright 2007 University of Iowa Press. All rights reserved.

Additional Resources and Information:

The Wall Street Journal's feature on Poems from Guantánamo, please click here.

The New York Times coverage, please click here.

The Poetry Foundation podcast, please click here.

The Washington Post's coverage, please click here.

National Public Radio's broadcast, please click here.

This American Life's Peabody Award-winning report, "Habeas Schmabeas," please click here.

PBS's Frontline, "Son of al Qaeda," please click here.

Amnesty International's information on Guantánamo, please click here.

The U.S. Navy, Guantanamo Base site, please click here.

To learn more about The Road to Guantanamo film, please click here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, please click here.

The National Guantánamo Coalition page, please click here.

Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay, please click here.

U.S. Department of Defense, Military Commissions Proceedings, Guantanamo Bay, please click here.

BBC report, "Life in a Guantanamo Cell," please click here.

Cage Prisoners, please click here.

FBI Report on abuse of detainees at Guantanamo, please click here.

Human Rights Watch, please click here.

The Guantanamo Blog, by H. Candace Gorman, habeas attorney, please click here.

Project Hamad, please click here.

Timeline Theatre, "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom," please click here.

American Civil Liberties Union, please click here.

ACLU directory of government documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act related to treatment of detainees, please click here.

Pen American Center, please click here.

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, please click here.

U.S. Department of State, Detainee Issues Archives, please click here.

United Nations report on treatment of detainees, please click here.

Seton Hall University School of Law, "Report on Guantanamo Detainees: A Profile of 517 Detainees through Department of Defense Data," please click here.

Seton Hall University School of Law, "Second Report on the Guantanamo Detainees: Inter- and Intra-Departmental Disagreements about Who is our Enemy," please click here.

International Committe of the Red Cross, "The ICRC's work at Guantanamo Bay," statement on confidential report on alleged abuse of detainees, made in response to New York Times report of treatment "tantamount to torture," please click here.

International Committee of the Red Cross' work at Guantánamo Bay, please click here.

UC Davis Human Rights Center on human rights , please click here.

UC Davis Human Rights Center testimonials from Guantánamo Bay, please click here.

401media's interactive review, please click here.

Daily Kos story 1, please click here.

Daily Kos story 2, please click here.

Boston Globe's op-ed, please click here.

Bill O'Reilly's comments, please click here.

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