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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Above, dappled mid-afternoon sunlight, Khartoum.

Light Distilled; A Sudanese Poet in Spain

Scholar in English and European literature, lecturer and linguist, news anchor, journalist and former DJ, the prodigious K.Eltinaé is an internationally acclaimed Sudanese poet who finds consolation and joy in the African light and “earthiness” of his adopted Andalusia.

This week’s post is the first of three dedicated to this passionate advocate of truths “that bloom from kindness”. In a world where one day, you too may ” face that same floor you pressed a man’s face against before you handcuffed him”, Eltinaé’s work is, perhaps more than anything, a plea for empathy; the “empathy every child dangles in their mother’s eyes as hope”.The other side of hope.

K.Eltinaé WordPress

The second edition of his debut collection The Moral Judgement of Butterflies (2019 International Beverley Prize for Literature) appeared this month and my next post will explore its poetic music and themes. The third post is dedicated to K.Eltinaé’s passion for the Nubian language and his latest collection of Nubian children’s stories.

K.Eltinaé on Instagram

Light Distilled; A Sudanese Poet in Spain

“Memory sits barefoot on a doorstep”

“On the morning a traveler set out, / he left two footprints behind” 

Light Distilled; The Poet in Granada

“Memory sits barefoot on a doorstep”

Khalid Eltinaé is, he stresses, an African who speaks Arabic – the language where love “sounds like the wind passes through every vowel”. Yet his poetry resonates equally to the cadences of Greek, Turkish, French, Spanish, and Nubian. Born in London, of Nubian and multiple Mediterranean heritage, he can be found at 4.00 am on Youtube reciting his poems and responding with beguiling modesty to questions in his soft transatlantic accent from his Granada home. Open Mike K.Eltinaé

From the intensely vulnerable and confessional (see BBC Interview 2008) to the universal, his poetry vibrates with the poetic compression of Khalil Gibran and Lorca, and the searing indignation of Audre Lorde. There is the raw dissonance of navigating life in third culture exile, its plangent evocation of alienation and loss.

“Where is that musk of doorways, those clouds we clung to as we chartered the skies?” he asks, recalling the times when “memory sits barefoot on a doorstep sewing patches as the moon yawns”. He feels the weight of unspoken conversations with those he left behind, knowing that more than just geographical distance means he will never now share their “inshallah futures”. Sometimes all seems lost and he fears being found cruelly tragicomic, “stiff, half hanging off a hotel bad under a phrasebook of another useless language.” But he also revels in MacNiece’s vision of worlds “collateral and incompatible”, the “drunkenness of things being various” for, as he reminds his father,”if you wanted me to live as just one thing, why did you take me on this balcony and show the entire world and then ask me to live in a corner?”

(Photo, above right, children in a village doorway, Northern Province, mid-1980s. Below, a 1980s Nubian doorway).

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“On the morning a traveller set out, / he left two footprints behind” 

Interviewed by Nkateko Masinga in Africa in Dialogue – the ascension of Africa’s storytellers, K.Eltinaé tells us the story behind the lines from the poem Tirhal, quoted above. They were “inspired by an ancient Nubian tradition which dates back to Pharaonic times. It is roughly translated as the “Traveller’s Blessing”; a simple mound of sand collected from the dunes of home and placed inside and outside the main door of a home before embarking on a journey. This sand was then kept in old copper vases in the entrance of a home to ensure a traveller’s safe return.

He goes on to explain that “Tirhal” is an Arabic word for decampment, the act of leaving your place for another, the state of moving, travelling in the Bedouin, nomadic sense from place to place. Tirhal can also mean leaving not because you want to, but rather because you have to. I wrote these poems to address my back-and-forth relationship with an African identity and heritage.

Nubia, Tirhal, the Niles’ waters and “the person I drowned there” permeate his work, as does a nomad restlessness; “my heart is weighed against an ostrich feather after grapefruits and incense …. I’m ready to leave again.” Yet Eltinaé is careful to reject tramline interpretations of identity and the caging “feel good communities” they generate on social media. “When you align yourself with one way of thinking, one way of viewing the world, you develop a massive blindsight which slowly leads to tyrannical standpoints that encourage further dividedness.” Africa in Dialogue – the ascension of Africa’s storytellers. Read more in Memories of Displacement

Below, The Argument of Trees; a hymn to quiet dignity and hope. 

The Argument of Trees and Living with Ghosts

Light Distilled; The Poet in Granada

“I wonder what they told themselves when dust settled under carpets in lands where cloves, mint and cinnamon turned to soot, like smell and taste.”

Perhaps part of Eltinaé’s affection for Granada lies in its scents, so redolent of Sudan’s aromatic lexicon (see Living with Ghosts). An intuition that the scent of cloves, mint and cinnamon is less likely to turn to soot in a land that bridges Europe, Africa and the Arab world. In The Poet & The Flamenco Dancer (embedded below), he speaks of the “way spices taste here” and “the light, the cucumbers, the LIGHT” of a place that is hard, earthy, still in touch with the earth, and the community spirit that brings. Granada also feeds his poetic imagination in unique ways; “The classical Arabic word for ‘home’;دار is the same as the Spanish verb for ‘give’: dar. So what exactly has home given me?” :

“The city I call home at the moment, Granada, has yearlong sunlight reminiscent of Africa, blooming jasmine of North African gardens in the summer and the timeless shrine Alhambra, engraved with poetry and talismans and the ghosts of countless poets such as Lorca and Ibn Zaydun. When I first arrived, I heard a story about a sultan who had a brilliant son. He was so overprotective of him that he did everything in his power to protect him from the suffering of love. Over time, his son learned poetry by heart and everything that could be taught about beauty. He even learned to speak with birds and through them learned about the delights of love which eventually made him suffer.”

He goes on; “However, as we all learn in our own way to discover love and beauty, one must also know the pain of its absence. Granada has greatly inspired the poems I’ve written about places that no longer exist as I once knew them. Aswan and Khartoum are two examples of cities whose histories resurface in my poems paying homage to letter mysticism and magical realism which are so widespread in Muslim, Hebrew, Greek, and many other old-earth traditions.” (Interviewed by Nkateko Masinga in Africa in Dialogue – the ascension of Africa’s storytellers).

And in Granada too he can pay homage to the people and their lives he left behind:

“It’s summer and I’m at a friend’s house drinking horchata. This creamy tiger nut milk concoction that makes me ramble and nostalgic. My friend’s mom asks to see photos of my family and I show her pictures of my parents in the early seventies before they met each other, before any of us existed. She marvels at how stunning they were in their youth. Then I show her pictures of my siblings. Only I know that every photo is at least a decade old. That we are now all very different people, but that I was the first to leave. You must miss them she says and I say of course out loud in Spanish, “¡Por supuesto!” Hear them arguing all at once in my mind as I tuck them back into a folded pocket in my wallet, repeating to myself طبعاً, φυσικά, tabii ki, bien sûr, certo. Of course we miss what we choose to remember.” butterflies

Learn more on how Granada feeds Eltinaé’s creative process in the short video interview below.

The Poet and the Flamenco Dancer

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