Equally appreciated in no smaller measure are his indefatigable advocacy of human rights, freedom of thought and expression, and his vehement hatred of all forms of human degradation so brilliantly articulated in his poetry. In this regard, his master pieces on ‘Nuclear Weapons’, ‘Nelson Mandela’, ‘Watergate’ and ‘Zimbabwe’ readily spring to the mind. Well described by other scholars, Gaarriye “has been universally regarded as one of the most important Somali poets composing on a great variety of topics from nuclear weapons to Nelson Mandela. A poet who has never been afraid to engage in the politics through his poetry[..]”.
Official censorship and its blatant harmful effect upon social justice were some of the main themes Gaarriye singled out for his unflinching poetic attack. So also his defence of peace was unreservedly forceful. In this regard, a historical instance worth citing was 30th April 1992, at a time when Somaliland was diabolically ravaged by civil strife. Gallantly taking his stand at the “Khayriya”, the main public square of Hargeysa, he addressed the gathered masses lashing on the insanity of war and its horrific consequences. He reminded the gathered public of the immeasurable cost of losing their right senses demanding immediate cease fire and calling for peace.
That was the hallmark of his famous poem “Ergo” (arbitrator). Here he never forgot, from the outset using his capturing style in reciting his poem, to mention the dictatorial era when before 10 years his poems had to run clandestinely fearing Siyaad Barre censorship, comparing it to that precious moment when he so proudly stood before them free from all strains to address them on such cardinal issues as the abnegation of war and the restoration of peace with its blessings.
Even before he fled to Ethiopia, joining the liberation movement, the dictatorial government had never been spared his bitter criticism. He starkly exposed its misdeeds and wrongdoings in the social affairs of the people. In fact some of his satirical works such as “Hashii Cosob”, “Kabo Caseeye”, “Madax Goodir”, “Qiyaame”, “Run”, especially when recited in public, demonstrated further his ability as an extraordinary actor. With his familiar witticism in these poems and others equally incisive, he exposed the government’s pathetic incompetence and the hollowness of its much vaunted system.
The Somali masses never failed to grasp the essence of his message; and that was why he has always remained in the black books of the official establishment. When many of the then Somali lyrics composers became aligned with the government willing to please the dictatorship, he still used his sophisticated arm to defend the ethics and dignity of poetry, and he composed his piece “Qasab kuma balwayn karo” (I can’t be compelled to sing)
By publishing this volume, our modest purpose is to celebrate this great poet’s invaluable contribution to Somali culture and his instrumental role in setting a bridge to international literature. This volume is the fifth in the “Iswaydaarsi” (Exchange) series which aspires to translate Somali literature and wisdom into other languages, and at the same time provide specific knowledge of international classical literature to the Somali speaking readership. Gaarriye’s translated poems into English fit well into the first category of books. His poems included in this volume are translated by Sarah Maguire, Mohamed Hassan “Alto”, W. N. Herbert, Rhoda A Raghe, Martin Orwin, and David Harsent.
I am deeply thankful to Poetry Translation Center for their permission to reproduce in this publication all Gaarriye’s poems they have translated as well as Herbert’s article that appeared on their website. Some of the poems included here have already appeared in PtC’s bilingual chapbook of Gaarriye’s poems in Somali and English. I am also thankful to the contributors of this volume, who with the limited time they had, yet so considerately managed to write about Gaarriye.
Finally this publication would not have be possible without the support of the organizations Poetry Translation Center, Kayd Somali Culture and Arts and Redsea Online Culture Foundation.
Jama Musse Jama