Poems in response to 9/11
Win coveted Kent State prize
Anyone who doubts the value to society of our aging population should take heart in the example of a 73-year-old retired newspaperman who has just won one of the nation's most coveted poetry prizes for a book of poems he was inspired to write after the attacks of September 11, 2001,
Djelloul Marbrook, whose first newspaper editor renamed him Del, is the 2007 winner of Kent State University's Tom and Stanley Wick Prize for his book, Far From Algiers.
Stuffing sky-blue notebooks in his pockets, he began walking around Manhattan determined to affirm his beloved city and country in the wake of the insane and murderous attacks. Marbrook had started writing poems in Manhattan when he was 14. In his thirties he abandoned writing poetry after publishing a few poems in small journals, but he never stopped reading and studying poetry.
Then at age 67, appalled by the terrorist attacks, the poet in him awakened. He had no idea of making a book or even pursuing a theme, but sometime in 2006, as he considered his work spread on a dining table, the underlying sensibility of more than 100 of the poems emerged. The clue was the title of one poem, Far From Algiers.
Marbrook recognized that he had been writing about belonging and unbelonging. As he examined this emergent idea he saw as a veteran journalist that the massive population dislocations caused by poverty and globalization rendered alienation a pressing issue of our time, an aspect of its Zeitgeist.
He saw that his own experience in America--having been born in Algiers to an American artist and a Bedouin father--foreshadowed the post-war experience of millions of people uprooted from one place and struggling to set down roots in another.
Marbrook had arrived in America a gravely ill infant. A doctor warned his grandmother and aunt, with whom he spent his first five years, that he probably would not survive. But his grandmother was determined not to allow him to die on her watch.
That he was American he never doubted. He played baseball and ice hockey creditably and served honorably as a Navy volunteer. But there were inklings from his maternal family that perhaps he wasn't quite as American as they were, the same sort of signals emitted today by people who wrap themselves in the flag.
Complicating matters for him, his mother invented a romantic story that his father had died in a hunting accident while she was pregnant. It wasn't until 1992 that he accidentally discovered his father had lived until 1978. The truth was that Djelloul had been conceived behind the back of his father's girlfriend. His father chose the girlfriend, and Djelloul and his mother departed for New York.
In this milieu of lies and otherness--far from Algiers--Djelloul strove to become his kind of American. "I owe it to the Navy that I have any idea of who I am," he says. "The Navy was my first family. Its acceptance was unconditional and unalloyed. Any danger being in the Navy might have posed seemed an inconsequential price compared to this. I finally knew the name of the game."
Learning of the prize, Marbrook sent flowers to Toi Derricotte, the highly regarded poet and University of Pittsburgh professor, who made the award. Derricotte wrote back, "Thank you so much for the flowers of Emily Dickinson; and thank you even more for that exciting, wise, sad and unique manuscript of your poetry. I am 66, so maybe the sad and ironic humor that I'm developing spoke to me from those poems, and also the way you embody the painful paradox of social and spiritual violence. And then to read more about the history of Algiers and see how colonialism is the same always and everywhere! Thank you for your poems and your philosophy!"
Kent State University Press will publish Far From Algiers next year, and Derricotte and Marbrook will read their work at Kent State together. Marbrook lives in Germantown, NY, and Manhattan.
1093 Woods Road, Germantown NY 12526, 518 537 3833
Djelloul's blog and web site
His mother Juanita Guccione's art
His aunt Irene Rice Pereira's art:
His e-novel, "Alice Miller's Room"