Monday, March 24, 2014

Regarding a U.S. Public Diplomacy Officer reciting a Pushkin Poem in Baghdad

Monday Inbox: US Embassy Baghdad’s Conrad Turner Recites a Russian Poem, And ….

Updated on 3/24 at 11:24 pm PST: The YouTube description now indicates that this is “One of four videos celebrating international poetry during the visit to Iraq of poets from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.”
– Domani Spero, DiploPundit
The video [see] was published by U.S. Embassy Baghdad on March 4, 2014 on YouTube. The video includes the English and Arabic text translation of a Russian poem.  The speaker is the embassy’s Public Affairs Counselor in Baghdad reciting a poem by Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in Baghdad. The embassy’s AIO also recited a poem last February; can’t say whose work he is reciting here, can you?
Oh, please don’t get us wrong, we love poetry.  We love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ”Underwear“and Keats, and Yeats, and Billy Collins, too.  But somebody from that building sent us an email asking if this is “really clever use of PD time and money?” So we went and look.  The YouTube post is 1:40 min in length, has 256 views, and does not include any context as to why our U.S. diplomat in Baghdad is reciting a Russian poem. What’s the purpose why this video is up, anyways? Was this part of a larger event? Nothing on the embassy’s website indicate [sic] that it is.  Was he just feeling it?  We can’t say, no explainer with the vid.  This could, of course, be part of celebrating poetry month, but the National Poetry Month in the U.S. has been celebrated in April since 1996.
In related news, according to, the March civilian casualties in Iraq is  [sic] currently at 749; the year-to-date count is 2,755 deaths.
Well, what do you think –  is this “really clever use of PD time and money?” or is this Reality Detachment, a chapter in Peter Van Buren’s future novel?


Comment by Tyrus W. Cobb (via LBJ); posted here with Dr. Cobb's kind ok:
Was mesmerized by the "melody" of the poem...could not understand it all. Will listen many times more
Why did he do it? Just speculation, sometimes--as I felt during my two tours in Viet Nam-- sometimes you just needed to get away from all the brutality around you.......and reading Pushkin amidst all the horrors around you might be a badly need escape
Comment by former Public Diplomacy Affairs Officer (Moscow) Philip Brown, posted here with his kind ok:
Just watched the video. I marvel at Conrad Turner's command of the language. Whether one understands is almost incidental; he conveys the beauty of the language.
Here's the entire poem in English translation:
The Upas Tree
Deep in the desert's misery,
far in the fury of the sand,
there stands the awesome Upas Tree
lone watchman of a lifeless land.

The wilderness, a world of thirst,
in wrath engendered it and filled
its every root, every accursed
grey leafstalk with a sap that killed.

Dissolving in the midday sun
the poison oozes through its bark,
and freezing when the day is done
gleams thick and gem-like in the dark.

No bird flies near, no tiger creeps;
alone the whirlwind, wild and black,
assails the tree of death and sweeps
away with death upon its back.

And though some roving cloud may stain
with glancing drops those leaden leaves,
the dripping of a poisoned rain
is all the burning sand receives.

But man sent man with one proud look
towards the tree, and he was gone,
the humble one, and there he took
the poison and returned at dawn.

He brought the deadly gum; with it
he brought some leaves, a withered bough,
while rivulets of icy sweat
ran slowly down his livid brow.

He came, he fell upon a mat,
and reaping a poor slave's reward,
died near the painted hut where sat
his now unconquerable lord.

The king, he soaked his arrows true
in poison, and beyond the plains
dispatched those messengers and slew
his neighbors in their own domains.
Get it, Mr./Ms.-if-this-“really -clever-use-of -PD-time-and-money?”

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