To the question always asked: 'Why do you write'? The Poet's answer will always be the briefest: 'To live better.' - St John Perse (1955)
We confront an unusual collection of poems in Better Not To Explain. The discoveries come late, as do the real symptoms of alienation. The author seems at home in the outcast's garb and the sensation that 'exile' is his main preoccupation only sinks in on reading a good segment of the book. Perhaps the twisted thread of Aidani's obscure and itinerant life-style and the strong oriental flavour pervading the poems hide at first an extended review of pressing modern problems common to a large section of the world's population.
Memory, friendship and the ever-present intimations of youth are the main thematic characteristics of Aidani's writing. Much of the poetry however, grows from the youthful vigour which demands justice of the outside world without devoting too much time to introspection. The pounding repetition of verses, prepositions and personal pronouns constitutes the most obvious affirmation of the riotous note pervading the poetry.
Much of Aidani's poetry is cryptic, drawing on individual responses to feelings and sensations which take root in a strong sense of discontent.
Aidani is the unrepentant exile who has not lost the taste for reproach and rebellion yet seems able to return at will to the common wealth of gentler sentiments in order to rest and gather strength to fight again.
The message is of peace,
this is reality. ('Another Reminder' p.50)
The implicit presence of the night, eternal companion of the Romantic poet, adds to these characteristics a ring of older poetics. The use of parataxis, though revived by the early modernists, was a device much in vogue in ancient times and one which, when employed with moderation, offers striking possibilities. In terms of his poetics, Aidani might be re-living the struggle of the late nineteenth-century poet between Romanticism and Modernism. The personal tone opens up the poet's mind to images of the self: he is achingly alone yet free, weighed down by the sombre movements of destiny and travel yet spirited enough to reach out towards the beauty which is offered him in the form of joy, regret and the host of emotions always available in composition.
Along paths, the streets and river banks,
a wanderer under the full moon
makes appointments with the night;
with endless nights...
The distance between you and them gets thicker.
The foliage of many hours and days
is released into the rain.
Distance and books...
like dead fish affected by pain
carry away the self. That's imagination.
(The Letter p.47)
Aidani's poetry seems to be in a state of evolution which has caused him to find a fitting measure of the English idiom in his most recent poems. In the early poetry, we still find an inordinate taste for the use of recurring images as well as some syntactical problems. However, the poetry of the last three years demonstrates a smoother handling of the language. His writing, though not completely purged of phrases from daily life, has now reached an agreement with English common usage.
As with much of the poetry setting out to portray the arbitrariness of signs in their splendour and in their irreverence for human understanding, Aidani's work remains concerned with the real. Simultaneously, the demands of communication fall on the twists of the poet's imagination and the medium metaphor. In this respect, Aidani has achieved some successes in rendition of which Nightscape Fitzroy (p.24) and The Fragrance of Mint (p.43) are perhaps the best examples.
If, as Nikos Papastergiadis has it 'Exile does not connote the space outside society, but the process of crossing borders', then images like these should convey with great precision, what, if anything tangible, is exile:
They took me away
from the fragments of my earth
while I was still a child.
The rain took me
to the heart of the desert. There
under the rain in the boundaries
between the rows of houses,
the smell of oil was my early morning's fragrance
and the dust of the oil pots
my memory in the heart of the port.
And then a nested love - my love
which was a substance of petrol and mint.
And since then young foliage and lives,
Whatever I touched, smelt of both.
('The Fragrance of Mint' p.43)
Mammad Aidani also concerns himself with international events. This is an 'antenna' which every migrant has developed efficiently. Aidani tunes into the events of 'home' (the Gulf), into those of other equally oppressed regions of the world: Africa, South America and Los Angeles, but also into the unseen commonality of voices every poet speaks to whether or not an answer or even an acknowledgment finds its way back to the writer's ear.
Do you remember? My unknown friend
we talked of the insignificance of conditions,
talked of feelings,
and the fluidity of languages and time
Your words, uttered in a different tongue,
calmed me down
to forget exile. ('Once Again' p.55)
The last poem, 'All in Mind', appropriately seals this collection. It is always a surprise for those amongst us who feel the pull of other lands, to find oneself in a flash, walking foreign streets and speaking a foreign tongue.
It was all in my mind
I realised I was living
in a different town with a different tongue. (p.74)
This sort of amazement belongs to the exile, the first generation emigrant and the refugee alike. It is a moment of reckoning before which nothing can be done except perhaps have recourse to a poem or a furtive smile.