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.