“If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone”—Thomas Hardy
Earlier in the year, ten of his most personal poems, including my favourite Somali song ever, the commercially successful love ballad “Cajabeey,” and the sweeping masterpiece (which I’ve said elsewhere should be a required reading for all mankind) “Sirta Nolosha” have been translated by the esteemed English poet W.N. Herbert, and recently he’s been named recipient of this year’s prestigious Prince Claus of the Netherland’s Award. Many have come before him, some contemporary rivals, some loyal confidents, but all whom he’d saluted in his poem “Halabuur”—Sayidka, Raage Ugaas, Cali Dhuux, Muuse Galaal, Cabdulle Raage, Qamaam Bulxan, Salaan Carrabeey, Timacadde—whom he’s outlived and outshone ... I’m sure ya’ll know who I’m writing about by now, but for clarity his beautiful name is Hadraawi—Maxamed Ibraahim Warsame Siciid Walanwal ... I’ve memorized his genealogy, I swear, and I can recite it as flawlessly as my very own, for he and his poetry are the most powerful part of my essence.
Hadraawi is the original Somali Renaissance Man—poet, philosopher, professor—who encompasses knowledge about the wider world, the son of an unapologetic nomad from Burco, Somaliland. His poems often skilfully lace together wholly unconnected and yet relevant historical figures and inaugural events to get at the truth of how things ought to be, fleetingly referencing Aristotle’s celestials, Darwin’s theory of evolution, Copernicus’s sun-centered planetary, the Congolese Prime Minister and Pan-Africanist Patrice Lumumba’s assassination, Mahatma Gandhi’s hungry-strike for an independent India, Nelson Mandela’s unfaltering hope for Apartheid South Africa—his is truly a knowledge reaching the scope of Euclid’s mathematics and Newton’s laws of nature.
Traveller, commentator, fluent in three languages (Somali, Arabic, English—in that order) and in a career spanning nearly over sixty-five years (he turns seventy this year and indeed he’s been composing poetry since he was five-years-old), the narratives of his poems are nothing short of compelling, the plots are captivating and intricately woven, his characters are like people in real life—difficult, unclassifiable, humane, exhilarating—and his metaphors strike a chord like some remembrance, which is precisely why he’s being awarded the grand poetry prize of the Netherland’s, the Prince Claus Award for 2013.
But, on a personal level, as he and I are indeed friends in real life, I’d like to shine light on his personality. Hadraawi’s poems are otherworldly, and I believe the man himself is a time-zone ahead of everyone, it’s impossible to keep up with his genius and intellectual creativity, but unless you’re super-duper analytical there’s no way you’ll notice. What you’ll find when you meet Hadraawi is the simplest of men like Gandhi shrouded in white sheets or Mandela glaring out of the barred window of his former jail-cell on Robben Island. He’s deeply religious, ferociously Somali, profoundly African, utterly humble, unspeakably hilarious, and so loveable.
His poetry has an ostentatious life of its own, and he as well has a life different from his masterpieces. But, the thread of his life’s work and his personality are the same: an obstinate obsession with truth and justice. His poetry was born out of a moment of injustice in his childhood when as a boy of four-years he’d overheard an elderly relative shamelessly chastising a whimpering young girl, and it is that fine day when he composed his first four bars, and I hope he never stops writing about life and its axioms.
Ugaaso Abukar Boocow
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