Moses Iten reviews rattapallax 10

25 August 2004

rattapallax 10rattapallax 10, Ram Devineni (ed)
NYC, 2004

I have to admit, I picked up issue 10 of rattapallax for 'The Age of MC SOLAAR' cover story. Although my French is still very limited, I have had quite a few tracks by the Senegal-born, Paris-bred, hip-hop superstar on high rotation for several years. Undoubtedly, his flow alone is dope enough for heads of any language.

My nerves are on fire because ignorance is &#151
the nerve of war
Tell us God is light, we are brothers, all
But we see that the light's extinct.
Let's please not repeat the same mistakes,
It's so hard to say, but… I'm scared.

            (from 'La Concubine de l'Hemoglobine', MC SOLAAR, French translation by Margo Berdeshevsky)

Hip-hop poetry is not a revolutionary new concept, but according to hip-hop scholar David Siller, 'there are evolutionary links between French poetry and French rap'. The author of the article, poet Margo Berdeshevsky, agrees, introducing MC SOLAAR as 'an iconic figure whom some would dub the rapper's Baudelaire'. With sales of his second album 'Prose Combat' (1994) surpassing 800,000 copies, MC SOLAAR is one of very few number of poets to reach such commercial heights, thus making him more recognisable in our contemporary world &#151 or at least within the francophone world &#151 than Baudelaire or any of the contemporary poets.

But what is a poet? Attach the adjective hip-hop, Nobel Prize-winning, experimental, spoken-word or journalist to that noun &#151 and 'poet' is still the word commanding respect. I believe poetry as an artform has never waned through the generations, even as it has deviated in the past and continues to do so, in countless directions and forms. Assessing the significance and validity of these directions, deviations and dopeness, that is where poetry journals can come in. But as courageous as the poets are, so the journals must be, also (and I do put rattapallax in this category and so will always pick it up, even when I don't recognise the man on the cover).

One man who eclipses even MC SOLAAR in my list of heroes is Ryszard 'journalist with a poet's soul' Kapuscinski who, in the 1960s, was Poland's only foreign correspondent. As he was covering the struggles for independence in 1960s Africa, Kapuscinski wondered where were all the writers, poets, and artists witnessing these tumultuous times? Perhaps stuck behind desks back in Europe, more obsessed by style than substance. Yet Kapuscinski later rose to international fame for his technique, or rather, his unique way of seeing the world. But I guess, he had to be there to see it in the first place. SOLAAR is also such a man, tasting all facets of life, and his work shows it. Berdeshevsky's piece on SOLAAR is the most refreshing profile I've read in a long time. Then again, she is a poet.

rattapallax 10 is the closest I feel to seeing through a window &#151 albeit limited by 100 pages, a CD and only biannual publication &#151 at the state of global poetry. It's pleasing to read some of the gems of international art represented, and rattapallax puts it all in context, allowing different languages and styles of poetry to crisscross. It has also awakened my interest to as yet undiscovered treasures.

Australia's own Noise 2003 spoken-word series is represented in issue 10 &#151 such gems as are known to my eccentric self, besides SOLAAR. There is also the subcontinental Asian Massive sounds of the US, following on from the UK's own Asian Underground, as well as the experimental Spanglish arte loco, formed via the mythical but very-present nation of Mexamerica and the Brazilian panache for words.

Será prazer essa exigência cega a latejar na mente o tempo todo?:

[Is it pleasure, this blind demand
constantly throbbing in one’s mind?:]

asks Brazilian poet Paulo Henriques Britto, and whilst working on an answer, his 'Trivial Epiphany' gives solace to the burning hearts and smoking minds of those of us who, at times, fear losing the moment by thinking too much.

The last copy of rattapallax I got my dirty mitts on had been issue 7 and, as I discovered with that issue, the feature section 'Indian poets respond to the Gujarat Riots' introduced relatively unknown territory to me. I was also happy to be exposed to Matvei Yankelevich, co-founder of the publishing-collective Ugly Duckling Presse:

Is there beauty enough in the world for poetry?

Is there beauty in poetry enough for the world?

            ('Pictures of Another Life', Matvei Yankelevich)

I believe the point of a review is to provide critique, but with precious little else &#151 or so I've found, here in our multi-cultural-blablabla-Australia &#151 to compare rattapallax to, how can I criticise? And by saying nothing in Australia comes close to rattapallax, I don't mean to diss Cordite. Rest assured, if rattapallax ever felt to me to be static, I would be happy to say it. Sure, there are some individual poems I didn't dwell on and a few I even disliked. And I would suggest to the people behind rattapallax to take more care in the concept of producing their next accompanying CD. In terms of style and production quality, this issue's felt too hotch-potch, and while there are individual moments of brilliance, I was not inclined to listen to it more than once.

But I applaud the courage behind the idea of blending all these languages &#151 some, wonderfully, without translation into English &#151 and geographical spaces into one. It makes my heart flutter, even as my mind is smoking, but hey, that's how I like it.

Me: Alors amigos, bring on die unendliche Vielfalt tuschuur to blow away tout-le-monde guey!

You: ¿Que?

Postscript: If you're an Aussie and this review has shaken you up a bit, hopefully in a positive way, tune into SBS Radio's Alchemy show. It, too, mixes up all genres & languages, but is made more accessible via the lingua franca of English. And if you have the cash, send some of it to New York and order your copy of rattapallax.

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