Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Brave Little Sternums by Matt Broomfield

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Fly on the Wall Press  £10.99 + p&p

Mural, linking the anarchist influences on Rojava

Difficult and defiant are two words that come to mind on thinking about this new book of poems from Matt Broomfield. Recently published by Fly on the Wall Press, the collection deserves to be widely read and promoted. For those familiar with what has happened and is happening in Rojava, these poems will undoubtedly deepen their appreciation of what has been achieved there – and at what cost. For those less aware, this work is a stepping-stone to further engagement.

Resistance and rebellion arise all the time, but its enemies are more ruthless than ever. Take the Arab Spring and the huge hope it was born of and inspired. Think of the aftermath of Syrian uprising – about the vicious war directed against the rebels. Or of those who had the temerity to rise up in Egypt, or Libya or Bahrain. In each case the retribution was fierce.

Perhaps this is why Rojava is so important. Who would have given those who live there a chance against NATO’s second biggest army, Turkey. Against ISIS and its brutal mutations, or against Syria’s cruel Assad regime. Not to mention Russia and the United States waiting in the wings. If it’s true that you are known by your enemies then that must say something highly significant about what Rojava stands for.

Feminism, anarchism, democracy …

To give you a sense of what this is aobut I include here the Wikipedia entry for Rojava:

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), also known as Rojava, is a de facto autonomous region in north-eastern Syria. It consists of self-governing sub-regions in the areas of Afrin, Jazira, Euphrates, Raqqa, Tabqa, Manbij and Deir Ez-Zor. The region gained its de facto autonomy in 2012 in the context of the ongoing Rojava conflict and the wider Syrian Civil War. While entertaining some foreign relations, the region is not officially recognized as autonomous by the government of Syria or any state except for the Catalan Parliament. The AANES has widespread support for its universal democratic, sustainable, autonomous pluralist, equal, and feminist policies in dialogues with other parties and organizations. North-eastern Syria is polyethnic and home to sizeable ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian populations, with smaller communities of ethnic Turkmen, Armenians Circassians and Yazidis. Supporters of the region’s administration, state that it is an officially secular polity with direct democratic ambitions based on an anarchistic, feminist, and libertarian socialist ideology promoting decentralization, gender equality, environmental sustainability, social ecology and pluralistic tolerance for religious, cultural and political diversity, and that these values are mirrored in its constitution, society, and politics, stating it to be a model for a federalized Syria as a whole, rather than outright independence …

Rojava is a living example that another world is possible. Ethnic strife is not inevitable, dictatorship is not inevitable, patriarchy is not evitable. There are other ways to live and all credit to the people and political forces in Rojava who have carved out a different way to living based around the practices of real (participatory) democracy.

It is into this world that Matt Broomfield arrived in 2018. Rojava had held back ISIS and then played a key part in eliminating its presence in the north Syria region. But Turkey was only waiting to strike, invading in 2018 and again in 2019. All the time, while fighting these wars of self-preservation against its many enemies, Rojava continued to build a new type of society. The price has been high and if Brave Little Sternums speaks of anything then it is of these losses and the gains that were made. Matt Broomfield summarises the situation at one point:

“The revolution is living, ugly, beautiful, writhing, self-contradictory, hopelessly compromised, and utterly worth fighting for.”

Matt Bloomfield was interviewed by MedyaNews about Brave Little Sternums. Towards the end of the interview he reads and discusses a number of poems from the book.

ghazal: 80km from Shengak City [is at 15 minutes in the MedyaNews podcast.] Using the word heval – Kurdish for comrade – the sweep of this rhythmic poem is broken repeatedly by its jarring declarations. Coffins are carried down the Tel Kocker road/ no matter how heavy, heval/ mothers will reach and wail for the coffins/ no matter how empty, heval.

for Hevrin Khalef [at 20 minutes] I recall reading about the brutal roadside slaying of Hevrin Khalef in 2019. A Kurdish journalist and activist, her car was ambushed by a Turkish army backed paramilitary group. She was dragged from the vehicle and beaten before being murdered. This bleak poem which opens with powerful lines – The temptation is to elide/ normalise or over-indulge/ and not to inhabit – succeeds in personalising this activist’s death, extracting it from those accounts that have appeared online and testifying to her bravery. The truth is not the sum of abrasion but the abrasions attest to the truth.

For Anna Campbell (Helin Qerechox) [at 29.30 minutes] is another powerful poem managing to capture the impossibility of not acting in certain circumstances. Moral courage is everything and of course Anna Campbell had this. She travelled to Rojava and fought with the YPG, losing her life in a missile attack by Turkey in 2019. Her family have fought a long battle to have her body brought home but have (at the time of writing) not been successful. The poem conjures a difficult angst, each section building up to, but never quite reaching its point. As in Above all, we would also/ in our thousands we would also/ believe us, heval/ at any cost we would also

Containing over forty poems, background material on Rojava, some photos and and observations by the author we are indebted to Fly On The Wall Press for publishing this collection. Do cconsidering buying this book – as both the author and the publisher need support in today’s difficult bookmarket. And of course Rojava needs as much attention at it can get. Despite all that’s been achieved it survives on a knife edge today.

Buy the book directly from Fly on the Wall Press here  £10.99 + p&p

More Links

Brave Little Sternums, poems from Rojava by Matt Broomfield – Medya News

Journalist Banned From 26 European Countries

Rojava – Revolution Between a Rock and a Hard Place (WSM, Ireland)

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