art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

The Book To Read: Victims Of A Map.

7-berlin-biennale-khaled-jarrar-briefmarken-2012-651x940/photo © Khaled Jarrar/

Victims of a Map is a beautiful bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry, including works of Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al Qasim and Adonis. The three of them are absolute stars in the world of (Arabic) poetry.

Alongside the original Arabic, this book includes thirteen poems by Darwish and a long work by Adonis written during the Beirut siege in 1982 – never before published. It’s really a labour of love and you can feel it in every page (lovely translation by Abudllah al-Udhari).

In The Desert (Diary of Beirut siege), great Syrian poet Adonis writes:

“My era tells me bluntly

you do not belong

I answer bluntly

I do not belong

I try to understand you

Now I am a shadow

Lost in the forest

Of a skull”

Most of the poetry by Adonis and Darwish and al-Qasim particularly, is written in a simple, everday language, but it speaks of the things greater than life – the hollowness of isolation, inevitability of “destiny”, solidity of “roots”, overwhelming hopelessness and permanent yearning for freedom.

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In We are Entitled to Love the End of Autumn Darwish writes:

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn and ask:

Is there room for another autumn in the field to rest our bodies like coal?

An autumn lowering its leaves like gold. I wish we were fig leaves

I wish we were an abandoned plant

To witness the change of seasons. I wish we didn’t say goodbye

To the south of the eye so as to ask what

Our fathers had asked when they flew on the tip of the spear”

As it is written in the introduction of this book, the poems in Victims of a Map express not only the fate of Arabs, Syrians or Palestinians, but also of the humanity itself, trapped in a contemporary tragedy. The resistance poetry by Darwish, al-Qasim and Adonis, raises a local tragedy to a level of a universal one.

Just think about it – how many people are today, and in how many ways – victims of a map? In The Story of a City, al-Qasim writes:

“A blue city

dreamt of tourists

shopping day after day.

A dark city

hates tourists

scanning cafes with rifles.”

Read this beautiful little anthology! Like it is often the case with great poetry books – you’ll never finish reading it and it is worth all of your time.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

War Works Hard

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Playlist: Nakba Day.

shatila 5 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Peric, MER/

Today’s playlist is a little different. It’s fifteenth of May, Nakba day, the day of the catastrophe.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, when they watched skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back to that all-defining 1948.

To commemorate this day, I am posting a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called The Dice Player. This video features a beautiful animation by Nissmah Roshdy. Darwish writes:

And so the fear strolled within me

And I strolled barefoot in its path

Leaving behind my childhood memories

And the dreams I had for tomorrow

Previous Playlist:

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Option Of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees.

ira8/photo © Gabriela Bulisova/

There is something special about Gabriela Bulisova’s photography. She documents wars, conflicts, exiles. Her subjects go through tragedies, they are extremely vulnerable and extremely powerful at the same time. Like the countries they come from, they are war-torn. Like the countries they come from, there’s more to them than just war.

The great thing about Bulisova’s photography is that she manages to capture the internal struggle – longing, desperation, sadness, void. It’s in the faces and movements of the people she portrays, but also in everything around them – light and the absence of light, unclear lines, shadows.

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In her series The Option of Last Resort Bulisova follows the stories of Iraqi refugees in United States. Why such a name for the project? For people who seek refugee status in America, the U.S. government offers resettlement as the “option of last resort” for the most vulnerable refugees.

“The masses of people displaced by the war in Iraq have become invisible and insignificant, overshadowed by other war-related events. Many of the displaced were the brains, the talent, the pride, the future of Iraq. Many of them, stigmatized by unforgettable violence, will never return to their homes”, Bulisova writes.

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Many of these refugees dreamed of America as a promised land, but the reality turned out to be very different from that. Once in the United States, they encounter the intricate, challenging, and often disillusioning process of transitioning to life in America.

“Many feel abandoned by the country they helped and risked their lives for; many are unemployed and facing dire financial crises; many yearn for the embrace of family and friends left behind; and many wish they could return home. Still fearful for their own safety and the safety of family members in Iraq, many refugees asked that I not reveal their faces or names”, Bulisova writes.

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“I want to feel like a human being again” is a sentence you can hear refugees repeating. It made me think of so many other refugee and exile stories – captured in stories, poems, novels. The same thought is present in all of them. Human being. To feel like a human being.

But for many – it just doesn’t seem to happen. There are no changes. They are, like Nadia Anjuman wrote – “lost in a sea of darkness, emptied of the thought of time, that eternal pit”. They are asking, like Mahmoud Darwish asked – “are we to remain like this, moving to the outside, in this orange day, only to touch the dark and vague inside?”

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In 2015, the escalation of armed conflict across the central governorates of Iraq, and the constantly changing security situation, resulted in new and secondary movements of internally displaced people across central Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

UNHCR reports that newly displaced people in Iraq find their limited financial resources quickly depleted by the increasing costs of accommodation and basic foods. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries is still rising and it will not stop, atleast not considering the (political) solutions we have so far.

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It makes me think of Riverbend, again and again. “In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t.

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, ‘Things will improve immediately.’ The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, ‘Things won’t improve for at least five years. And the pessimists? The pessimists said, ‘It will take ten years. It will take a decade'”, she wrote in 2013.

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Years went by, more than a decade passed. Iraq Body Count still counts the bodies, they still have a lot of work to do. The website says: Tuesday, 29 December: 36 killed. Monday, 28 December: 65 killed (30 children executed in Qayyarah).

Civilian deaths are almost doubling every year. What will the new year bring us? What will we bring to it? What will we do with all the possibilities? Can we make people feel like human beings again?

//all photos © Gabriela Bulisova//

For more on this and her other projects, visit Bulisova’s official website.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Rashid Hussein: The tortured soul and a poet star of Palestine.

Rashid Hussein (1936-1977) was born in Musmus, Palestine. He published his first collection in 1957 and established himself as a major Palestinian poet and orator. He was the first celebrity poet to appear on Arab – Israeli stage, Darwish called him „the star“, he showed them it was possible to write about „human things“ – bread, hunger, anger.

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Hussein was a tortured soul, he wanted to be accepeted by the Israeli Jewish society, he wanted to connect the Palestinians and Israelis. But that wasn’t easy.

His song The locked door was dedicated “to my Jewish friend who asked me – why don’t you describe the Negev and kibbutz and moshav in your poetry?”

You tell me to describe the beauty of the kibbutz and moshav

And the Negev and the Yarkon that drapes its sands as a gown.

But you have forgotten, my brother, that you have locked me out.

Do you want me to be a lying clown?

You’ve locked me out.

Hussein was dedicated to the Palestinian cause, he wanted his Israeli friends(and all the other people) to understand what it meant to be and live as a Palestinian without Palestine.

Without a Passport

I was born without a passport
I grew up
and saw my country
become prisons
without a passport

So I raised a country
a sun
and wheat
in every house
I tended to the trees therein
I learned how to write poetry
to make the people of my village happy
without a passport

I learned that he whose land is stolen
does not like the rain
If he were ever to return to it, he will
without a passport

But I am tired of minds 
that have become hotels 
for wishes that never give birth
except with a passport

Without a passport
I came to you
and revolted against you
so slaughter me
perhaps I will then feel that I am dying
without a passport

Hussein married a Jewish woman and went on to live in New York. He started to drink a lot, his life was in ruins. He tried to change the minds of his Israeli friends, but it seemed like there were forces in Israel which fear the Arab friend more than the Arab terrorist. Hussein tried to make sense of his life far away from home, he kept on spending the money and drinking.

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„It seems telling that almost everyone who writes or talks about Rashid mentions food and drink, and in particular his almost desperate need to shower with edibles all those he loved“ , writes Adina Hoffman in her book My Happiness Bears No Relation to HappinessA Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century (biography of another great Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammad Ali). She also writes:

„He seems to have possessed an uncanny gift for making each of those around him feel his confidant in an instant, as many of his friends were also driven by the need to try and protect him – most pressingly, from himself.“

And really, he was so vulnerable, and his young life (41) ended in vain. His friend, I.F. Stone, said Rashid died of the disease called “homelessness.”  Mahmoud Darwish dedicated his poem On Fifth Avenue he greeted me to Rashid Hussein, and I think that one is a great way to end this post. I’ve also decided to put in black and white  photos of Palestine, it just seemed right (photos ©Occupied Palestine).

On Fifth Avenue he greeted me (For Rashid Hussein)

On Fifth Avenue he greeted me.

He leaned against a wall of glass.

There are no willows in New York.

He brought tears to my eyes,

He gave the river back its waters,

We drank coffee,

And parted seconds after.

 

For twenty years

I’ve known him to be forty

Tall as a coastal song

He came to us a blade of wine

And left, a prayer’s end.

He flung out poems

At Christo’s Restaurant

And all of Acre would rise from sleep

To walk upon the sea.

jenin

 He had roses. He had chains.

Nothing hurt him behind barbed wires

But his mighty wound.

Lovers would pass and promise meetings,

There were seacoasts that we lifted,

There were wild grapes that we tasted,

There were blue herbs that cried out

And we mingled in their cry.

 

We tore all songs apart,

We were torn apart by gazes

From dark eyes.

We fought and were killed.

While the knights came and went.

 

In every void

We saw the singer’s silence

Blue to the point of vanishing.

For twenty years

He has been throwing his flesh

In all directions

To the fowl and fish.

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The son of two peasants

From a limb of Palestine,

Southern and pious,

He was big of feet

And pale of voice.

Brown to the point of familiarity,

He was poor as any butterfly.

 

He could see further

Than prison gates

He could see closer

Than studies on Art

He could see us,

See our refugee cards.

 

Simple, in cafes and in language

He liked the flute, and beer

The prose of meadows

The poetry of wheat.

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 He visited his family Saturdays

To rest from the terrible, divine ink

And the police’s questioning.

He only published

Two slim books of his early poems

And gave us all the rest.

 

… Pale as the sun in New York,

From where will the heart pass,

Is there room, in this asphalt wood,

For the feathers of a dove?

My mailbox is empty

And dawn here does not sting

Nor any star burn in this crowding.

 

My evenings are narrow.

The body of my love is paper

No one wraps around my evenings,

Wishing to be river and cloud.

From where will the heart pass,

Who will pick up the dream

Fallen outside the bank and opera house?

A cascade of pins

Drowns my ancient desires.

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 I no longer dream

I desire to desire

No. This is not my time.

Give me my limbs to embrace

And my winds to go forth.

 

From cafe to cafe

I want the other language

I want the difference

Between fire and memory.

Give me my limbs to embrace

And my winds to go forth.

 

Why do poems evade me when I’m far from Jaffa?

Why does Jaffa vanish when I touch her with my hand?

No, this is not my time.

Murals against the backdrop of the Jabalia refugee camp in Palestine. 24/09/2010

 He disappeared down Fifth Avenue

Or a Northern Pole

And all I remember of his eyes

Were cities that come and go.

He vanished.

 

We met again in a year

At the airport in Cairo

He said

If only I were free

In the prison cells of Nazareth.

 

He slept a week,

He woke two days.

He drank nothing of the coffee

But its colour.

 keffiyeh

We retraced our past steps,

The land that crawls in our blood like insects,

The death of friends,

Those who shared our days,

Then scattered.

They did not love us as we wished them to.

They did not love us, but they knew us.

 

He would rave when he woke

And wake when he wept.

Life has passed me by

And I’ve lost the essence of it all.

He disappeared with a sunset

Over the deep Nile

And I prepared a eulogy for him,

A funeral of palm.

 

My continuous suicide,

Can’t we start again from any parting,

Can’t you glow like the plants of Galilee

Or flame like a murdered man?

He disappeared.

crw5789cigszc1 On Fifth Avenue he greeted me.

He leaned against a fountain of cement.

There are no willows in New York.

Has anyone of us died? No.

Have you changed? No.

Is the journey still the journey

With the harbour in the heart?

 

He was so far

That he vanished like a deer

In a lake of fog.

 

He did not know or ask the time

Nor was he moved by those upright trees

Beneath his tenth floor window

In Manhattan

He only listened to the secret ringing

Of his bell

And saw another winter come.

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Are we to remain like this,

Moving to the outside

In this orange day

Only to touch

The dark and vague inside?

 

I carry the earth’s weight

Girls have taken of my soul and gone.

Birds have nested in my voice,

Then have broken me and flown.

And the singing has dispersed me,

And misplaced me.

 

No, this is not my time.

No, this is not my flesh.

Translated by Rana Kabbani

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