ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)    


In poetry a single word can illumine connections which the multitude

cannot grasp; and in allegory the significance is communicated to

 the select few, though the word is available to all.



Mevlut Ceylan Interviews 

Ahmed Ali (1910-1994) 



Karachi: August 1986

Mevlut: When selecting your wording what do you pay most attention to? Does sensitivity or does content play a greater role when you choose your words?

Ahmed: It is the subject that calls up words. Meanings and words are interrelated. Without sensitivity one cannot choose the right word for the right meaning, though in all true art it is the computers of the mind that matches words and meanings. In ordinary language, it is only through symbols that one can suggest the meaning.

The symbols of poetry are words. Words have different qualities, of similes or metaphors, which reach different levels, simile traveling along certain levels, allegory sounding deeper levels through metaphor. All art is creation which springs from the unknown subconscious. It is a complex abstract process which, in order to assume concrete form, employs images which, in poetry, assume the form of words, in painting of colour, and sound in music.

Ideas belong to the realm of thought which is a hidden activity and requires expression to come into the open. But words are not ideas; they are only symbols which have acquired certain definite meanings which are often nebulous. Nevertheless they evoke response similar, or close to, the ideas or feelings of the creator or vates as the poet was called, or as close as the associative quality of words can communicate them to the sensitivity of the reader. 

Poetry and prophecy are akin in delving into the source of inspiration (called revelation in the case of poetry); only poetry fails to reach the innermost depth of the dark force that lies hidden in the collective subconscious we call divinity.

Semantic symbols in the form of simile and metaphor play an illuminative role in poetry, and metaphor and allegory in prophecy. In poetry a single word can illumine connections which the multitude cannot grasp; and in allegory the significance is communicated to the select few, though the word is available to all.

A common example from poetry could be:

My love is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June

                                    Robert Burns

Which would not mean anything to a person who has not seen a rose. For allegory, consider

It is one who conjoined two large bodies of water,

One fresh (and) sweet, the other brine (and) bitter,

And has placed an interstice, a barrier between them

                                                                    Qur’an, 25:53

You can yourself draw the conclusion: which plays a more important role in poetry, content or word or both!

Mevlut: When did you first get involved with poetry?

Ahmed: I suppose when I was eleven or twelve, though even as a child, my mother used to tell me, and I have a vague recollection of it, I used to babble for hours playing by  myself, making up words that made no sense.

Mevlut: Do you think that special situations are needed for writing poetry? Does poetry live within you?  

Ahmed: Being “wrapt up” in poetry does not make you a poet, as being dressed up in clothes does not make you a man, though it may give you culture and polish. The springs of poetry lie within you; you cannot acquire them by reading which, however, may impart appreciation and a criterion of good and bad, that is, literary efficiency.

Since poetry resides within you, special “situations” are necessary to bring it our of you. The name of “situations” in art and poetry is experience. Feeling and the capacity to experience being inborn, only those can feel and experience who are sensitive by nature.. In fact, predilection to poetry itself occasions situations, as it is visionaries who alone see visions which non-visionaries can neither invent nor see.

Mevlut: Can you comment on the development of literature (in particular of poetry) and the stage, which it has reached today? In today’s mass media and era of high technology of communications, do you think that literature has been untouched by these – can mass media convey the messages in poetry or art—changes?

Ahmed: One requisite of poetry is leisure. Without leisure one cannot contemplate. Without contemplation emotion cannot open out into its many-coloured spectrum nor find occasion for recollection in tranquility which renews the springs of inspiration. You cannot write poetry riding a double-decker bus in the madness of London rush.

Few have, therefore, been able to write poetry in our day, except by finding refuge in the isolation of their minds: Ezra Pound in his essentially demented personal situation, T.S, Eliot in the paranoiac awareness of the irreligiosity of his generation and the consequent escape into the psychotic state of Christian mysticism, and Rainer Maria Rilke in the loneliness of suffering and resultant leisure his peculiar circumstances provided for contemplation as the Duino Elegies show. Nonetheless, with the exceptions of Rilke it is doubtful if their poetry achieved real greatness – Pound is so fragmented.

The art of poetry has been progressively declining since its rise in the Elizabethan age, in the same proportion as material success incumbent on imperialist expansion and industrialization, the  consequent hurry and mechanization of life have increased, culminating in the increase of materialism represented by Darwin’s devastating theory of man’s descent from the ape. 

This took away the sense of wonder at the phantasmagoria of life and the divine order of Creation, and gave rise to pessimism which has led to the gradual desiccation of whatever hope remained in the eternal mystery of the beginning and the End.

The best ages of poetry in the West, to confine ourselves to the English-speaking world, were the Elizabethan and the Caroline when in the former a new wide vista of hope and wonder was opening up before the mind, and in the latter a leisure was created for contemplation and love after the turmoil in the intervening decades. (See, for instance, Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mostress.”) The French Revolution broke the atmosphere of complacency that had come upon Europe, and agitated the spirit into a second Romantic interlude.

But it was short-lived and marked with a sense of haste, as though a hidden hand were pushing it out. And the poetic careers of Wordsworth and Coleridge were confined to the brief period of the Lyrical ballads, and those of Shelley, Keats and Byron were too short.

The coming Industrial Revolution, trailing into the Victorian age, produced an era of skepticism, doubt, and a false sense of security in imperialism and the certainty of possessing everything that was good and beautiful, and the hypocrisy of Victorian morals against the background of prostitution and French cancan . . . The poet of fin de siecle is consequently sick and tired, and easily trails off into the sentimentality of the Georgians when the poets were crying over the dead ass as if it were their brother.

Today, with all sense of wonder drained by the arrogance of power, the nuclear explosions, the conquest of space, Reagan’s Star Wars, there is no room for wonder or poetry. Man has become his own creator and destroyer; the Big Idea of life has fled. When all real poetry and literature, the greatness of thought and the written word have been drowned in the noise of electronic machines, the tape and the TV, the radio, the screen, and the computer has replaced the human mind, what message there then remains for man’s artificial devices to convey, when the spirit itself is dead?

Mevlut: Do you think that poetry can change our world? Why poetry?

Ahmed:  In view of what has been said above, which seems to point to the death of poetry, how can it “change the world”? Not that poetry does not have the power to change the world. It has definitely changed it once. That was after the invasions of Changez Khan and Halaku’s hordes when the Islamic world lay devastated in the throes of death with no hope of its rising out of the traumatic experience.

What then sustained the Muslims and raised them out of their stupor was the poetry and message of Jaluddin Rumi and Sa’di Shirazi which filled them with hope and vigour again. There was no other power that could have awakened them and made them whole. But then belief was alive; today faith in the eternal principle and the guiding hand that shapes the destiny of man is dead.

Mevlut: How do you relate the essence of the poem with its style?

Ahmed:  The answer to the relation of the essence of the poem with the style lies embedded in the answer to questions above. It is essentially the nature of the subject that dictates the style, the subconscious acting as computer.

Mevlut: In your view, what makes a poem relevant for the future?

Ahmed:  The factor that contributes most to the relevancy of a poem is the nature of experience. If it has a lasting import and universality, it cannot fail to cast its shadows into the future. Its relevancy to the future lies in its presenting the eternal verities of life, of fellow-feeling and bearing with fortitude the trials that befall. Its appeal even to the future is assured in such a case.

posted 8 July 2005

*   *   *   *   *


Ahmed Ali (1910-1994)

Man of Letters, short story writer, literary/cultural activist, novelist, translator, diplomat, university professor, poet was born in Delhi in 1910, and educated at Aligarh and Lucknow universities: B.A. (Honours), 1930 and M.A. English, 1931. His circle of friends included E. M. Forster, George Orwell, Virginia Wolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Han Su Yin, Tien Chen, Sarojini Naidu, Laxmi Pandit, Raja Rao, Jamni Roy,Kunwar Natwar Singh and the Surahwardy family; Mohsin Abdullah and Laurence Brander from Aligarh and Lucknow were  his dear friends to the end. Ahmed Ali died in Karachi on 14th January 1994. During a period in which a modernist movement in Urdu literature, Ahmed Ali co-authored the historic and revolutionary collection of Urdu short stories Angaray [Red Hot Coals]. Angaray criticized mullahs, social hypocrisy and much else, caused an uproar. The authors were accused of being “atheists” and “anti-Muslim.” The Government of India banned the book. 

On April 5, 1933 Ahmed Ali and Mahmuduzzafar published a joint statement “In Defence of Angaray” in The Leader, [Allahbad] and proposed a League of Progressive Authors, which would bring out similar collections. In 1936 this became “The All India Progressive Writers Association" committed to independence, religious harmony and the socialist, egalitarian creed..

Ahmed Ali broke away from the Progressive Writers Association, amid much acrimony and accusations of betrayal he could not accept limitations imposed by the Marxist ethos and wanted to explore dimensions beyond proletariat literature and went to on found, The Progressive Writers Association which was to have far-reaching consequences for South Asian literature.

In 1934, he published his first Urdu collection 'Sholey [Flames].His much-praised Urdu short story 'Hamari Gali' set in Delhi was published in New Writing in London. 'Hamari Gali' took him back to his roots, to Delhi and made him realize that he wanted a much larger canvas to portray its bygone culture. 

To reach a broader anglophone audience Ali wrote Twilight in Delhi in English, first published by The Hogarth Press in London in 1940. The novel provides a portrait of the static and decaying traditional culture of Delhi, the Mughal capital, while the British hold the Coronation Durbar of 1911 and draw up plans for their new imperial city, New Delhi.

Here's a poetic passage from Twilight in Delhi:

Night envelopes the city, covering it like a blanket. In the dim starlight roofs and houses and by-lanes lie asleep, wrapped in a restless slumber, breathing heavily as the heat becomes oppressive or shoots through the body like pain. In the courtyards, on the roofs, in the by-lanes, on the road, men sleep on bare bed, half naked, tired after the sore day's labour. A few still walk on the otherwise deserted roads, hand in hand, talking; and some have jasmine garlands in their hands. The smell from the flowers escapes, scents a few yards of air around them and dies smothered by the heat. Dogs go about sniffing the gutters in search of offal

His linguistic strategy was innovative and courageous, a hallmark in efforts to translate one culture (Urdu and Persian images; traditional Indo-Muslim culture) into the language of another culture, a colonial and imperial power, namely, English.

Ahmed Ali's other works include two novels, Ocean of Night and Of Rats and Diplomats; The Prison-House; Purple Gold Mountain; Selected Poems; Mr. Eliot's Penny-world of Dreams; Muslim China; Ghalib: Selected Poems, The Problem of Style and Technique in Ghalib; and The Flaming Earth.

Professor Ahmed Ali translated from Urdu, Persian, Indonesian, Chinese and Arabic. His translation of classical Urdu poetry, The Golden Tradition (Columbia University Press, 1973), makes an important contribution to the study of comparative literatures, and surveys in depth the literary and philosophical background of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.

AI-Qur'an, A Contemporary Translation (Princeton University Press, Oxford University Press & Akrash) is Professor Ahmed Ali's most outstanding contribution in the field of translation. Approved by eminent Islamic scholars, it has come to be recognised as the best of existing translations of the holy Qur'an.

Professor Ahmed Ali was a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Humanities at Michigan State University in 1975, Fulbright Visiting Professor of History at Western Kentucy University and Fulbright Visiting Professor of English at Southern Illinois University in 1978-79. He was made an Honorary Citizen by the State of Nebraska in 1979. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Karachi during 1977-79, which later conferred on him an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature in 1993.

A distinguished gentleman of refined taste and manners, Professor Ahmed Ali had a deep interest in sufism and a passion for Ghalib. His writings voiced concern over the decay of Muslim culture and the injustices of colonial powers.

posted 8 July 2005

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. The Economy

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update10 May 2012




Home  Ceylan Index