About The Galveston Oil Spill and A Kindred Poet: Nizar Qabbani (Syrian, 1923-1998)



“There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.” 

 ― Björk


These words were especially true yesterday, when a friend told me about the recent oil spill near my birthplace. (“The area is home to popular bird habitats, especially during the approaching migratory shorebird season.” –Associated Press) I couldn’t find my own words to express my reaction to what happened, and my position about the fossil fuel/nonrenewable energy industry, but I remembered the beautiful words of a kindred poet, translated in English I discovered in a collection purchased from Recycled Reads: Modern Arab Poets , which features three representative poems by Nizar Qabbani. The title of the poem that empathized with me after reading about the oil spill near Galveston: “Love and Petroleum”.  

In his dissertation about the poet, diplomat, and publisher, Nizar Qabbani: From Romance to Exile, Muhamed Alkhalil writes: 


[Qabbani] launched a searing attack against the Arab “princes of oil” in Saudi Arabia and 

the Arabian Gulf. The poem railed against the nouveau-riche Arab Sheikhs 

and Princes squandering their money on women and booze in the nightlife of 

Western capitals when the rest of the Arab world, and indeed their own 

societies, were desperately in need of these resources. Written in the voice of 

a woman rejecting the advances of one such Arab Sheikh, the poem despite 

its rhetorical strength, at times bordered on vulgarity and name-calling.


Unfortunately, the poem isn’t available to read online, but I will share a stanza that mirrored my rejection of American oil princes today:


When will you understand?

That you will never numb me

By your wealth and your princedoms

That you will never possess the world

With your oil

With your concessions,

With petroleum

Exhaled from your flowing mantles

With cars you throw

At your princesses’ feet

In countless numbers…


Nizar Qabbani and I happen to share the same birth date, similar romantic language usage and use of poetry as social commentary sensibilities. Now he ranks as one of my kindred spirit poets, with Gwendolyn Brooks, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rita Dove, and Pablo Neruda.


Plaisance means “Pleasure” (Martha & Malvin Valmont in Plaisance, LA circa 1950)

Martha & Malvin Valmont (Plaisance, LA circa 1950)

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Plaisance is French for “Pleasure”, and it has been my pleasure lately, surveying a map of my maternal great grandparents’ home of St. Landry Parish, the birthplace of Zydeco, where I spent a lot of summers and holidays. Since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with names of events, places, and roads there, like Yambilee, Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods, and Westwego…so maybe it’s time to write an entire series of stories, prose, and poems based on five senses of memories from childhood and early adulthood in Louisiana.

Sometimes I write under the pseudonym Renée Valmont, so I may use the name for the potential creative writing project. The working title: Mon Plaisance/My Pleasure.

For The Birds (Two Poems)

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Bird Calls (or The Life of Birds in East Texas)

An unseen bird attempts to be heard

over the whir-chunk-clamor

of machinery digging up dirt

on a Sunday before noon.

Not many cars drive down the nearby road,

past the partially cleared forest

that frames a farm house covered

in a final vinyl after years of peeling paint.

A ten-year-old girl is indoors,

listening to the cacophonous music,

after faking an illness

to escape another sermon that always seems to end

with a dove flying over a mythical man’s head.

Maybe the preacher likes birds, like her,

watches and listens to  them in the early morning

before the competing sound of progress

uproots more tress, digs up more ground below

in which will flow a human obsession

that burns up and disappears quicker than a passion,

while the calls of birds remain unanswered.

(October 2012, in support of the Tar Sands Blockade in East Texas. (Take action in your community and donate to the cause to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline @ http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/donate-3/. )

V-Formation (or The Life of Birds at Town Lake)

Music after the afternoon dream coos

in the trees, lofty wild parrots squawk,

aping human noises; mocking birds

chirp like false car alarms

in a new condo complex parking lot.

On a day of breezes, black birds fight

with broken glass as ducks float

on Town Lake, a slow picture show

before the storm of man-made rapture…

I’lll miss the green grass and man-made happy trails

to a nature landing, on the cool bank where two friends

sit silently, skipping stones and an unimportant destination.

There is no human v-formation.

(March 2012)

“Bird Calls” and “V-Formation” © 2012 by Danna Williams, a.k.a. Renée Valmont.