art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Ghassan Zaqtan | A Picture Of The House At Beit Jala.

laila-shawa-where-souls-dwell-v/Where souls dwell III © Laila Shawa/

A Picture Of The House At Beit Jala by Ghassan Zaqtan (translated by Fady Joudah)

He has to return to shut that window,
it isn’t entirely clear
whether this is what he must do,
things are no longer clear
since he lost them,
and it seems a hole somewhere within him
has opened up

Filling in the cracks has exhausted him
mending the fences
wiping the glass
cleaning the edges
and watching the dust that seems, since he lost them,
to lure his memories into hoax and ruse.
From here his childhood appears as if it were a trick!
Inspecting the doors has fully exhausted him
the window latches
the condition of the plants
and wiping the dust
that has not ceased flowing
into the rooms, on the beds, sheets, pots
and on the picture frames on the walls

Since he lost them he stays with friends
who become fewer
sleeps in their beds
that become narrower
while the dust gnaws at his memories “there”
. . . he must return to shut that window
the upper story window which he often forgets
at the end of the stairway that leads to the roof

Since he lost them
he aimlessly walks
and the day’s small
purposes are also no longer clear.

Ghassan Zaqtan is a Palestinian poet, born in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Zaqtan has lived in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and  Tunisia. His tenth poetry collection Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me was translated to English by Fady Joudah and awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2013.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Playlist: The Melody Of Our Alienation (Yemen).

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A horrific attack in Sana’a yesterday (Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, leaving more than 200 people killed, and more than 500 injured) took me back to Yemen and its tragedies, most of which are unravelling far from the media flashlights.

At the same time, there are reports about intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals being filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganisation of the central bank that is worrying importers.

With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

It’s like Safa Al Ahmad describes it in an interview with Status Hour“Fighters are the ones who get salaries these days in Yemen, nobody else does. It just goes to show you how fragile the situation has become. I would argue that there’s no longer a Yemen, North and South are completely separate from each other”.

The playlist today is a small way of reaching out to Sana’a, to Yemen. The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

It’s a way of searching for something soft, something gentle, something that makes sense amidst this chaos:

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

Previous Playlist:

Ruba Shamshoum

Jerusalem in my heart

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

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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, Iraq

The Book To Read: War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail.

dunya1/Dunya Mikhail, photo via Vimeo/

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail continues to amaze me. I recently read The War Works Hard, Mikhail’s first poetry collection translated to English (beautifully translated by Elizabeth Winslow). The War Works Hard was also the first translation of poems by a female Iraqi poet published in the United States (it was published in 2005).

The poems in this collection were written between 1985 and 2004, during the two decades of mainly sad and painful moments for Iraq and its people. Years of war working hard. In a poem I was in a hurry, Mikhail writes:

Yesterday I lost a country.

I was in a hurry,

And didn’t notice

When it fell from me

Like a broken branch from a forgetful tree

dunya

Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer, she faced increasing threats from the authorities and fled first to Jordan and then to the United States in the late 1990s. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing.

When you first look at it, Mikhail’s poetry might seem very simple, but she manages to achieve so much with so little. Her writing is gentle, bare, unadorned, direct. The language is pointed, stark. There’s so much beauty, honesty and love in that – it’s moving, it’s thoughtful and respectful. It’s caring.

In a poem Prisoner, Mikhail writes:

She doesn’t understand

The prisoner’s mother doesn’t understand

Why she should leave him

Just because

“The visit is over”

I am thankful to Dunya Mikhail for continuing to write (Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea was published in 2009, Iraqi Nights in 2014), and to Elizabeth Winslow and Kareem James Abu-Zeid for translating Mikhail’s work and making it available for more readers everywhere.

I hope to read more of Mikhail’s new poetry, but I am also sure I will go back to The War Works Hard many times in the future. I’d go back, even if it was only for this verse:

You planted pomegranates and prisons

round, red and full.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

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art of resistance, Syria

After | Aleppo.

aleppo/Aleppo, illustration by the Lebanese artist Jana Traboulsi/

After Aleppo by Jehan Bseiso

I learned to read early.

But the truth is, sometimes I wish the letters remained funny drawings for longer, before the uninvited tyranny of words, and

before other tongues found home in my big mouth.

I don’t mean it literally.

One day, we will go back to Aleppo you said.

You don’t mean it literally.

Habeebi four years ago we shouted for change, and now we are citizens of border towns.

We go from Turkey, to Lebanon, to Egypt, but we don’t find Aleppo.

We have food vouchers, and, assistance criteria, and, intermittent empathy.

I don’t write any more poetry.

The boat is sinking,

literally,

but I don’t want to leave this room.

It smells like jasmine and you taste like freedom.

This poem was published in January last year, on Mada Masr.

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art of resistance

Playlist: Saul Williams.

Saul-Williams-04/Saul Williams, photo by Onaje Scott/

Saul Williams is a true poet. His new album MartyrLoserKing was released couple of months ago, and I’ve been really enjoying it.

Here’s one of the great songs from the album, The Noise Came From Here. It’s everything I love about Williams – strong lyrics, great production, stunning visuals. And really, those lyrics – beautiful and bare, arrows straight to your heart.

We won’t be silenced, no
The noise came from here
Your never ending war will not be waged from here

Your sirens and your guns, you know we paid for it all
Your scripture severing tongues, you know we paid for it all
With oil and our blood, you know we paid for it all
We won’t be silenced, no, because we paid for it all

You’ll never touch my love

Previous Playlist:

Farida Muhammad Ali.

Nakba Day

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

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art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

Ghayath Almadhoun: The Details.

4Safwan_Dahoul/art by Safwan Dahoul/

Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian poet born in Damascus, Syria, in 1979, and living in Stockholm since 2008. With the Syrian poet Lukman Derky, he founded Bayt al-Qasid (House of Poetry), a space for freewheeling expression in Damascus.

Almadhoun has published three collections of poetry, the latest in Beirut in 2014. In Sweden, his poetry has been translated and published in two collections, and awarded the Klas de Vylders stipendiefond for immigrant writers.

The following is Almadhoun’s poem The Details. This translation for The Details was originally published in Tripwire Journal.

Do you know why people die when they are pierced by a bullet?
Because 70% of the human body is made up of water
Just as if you made a hole in a water tank.

Was it a random clash dancing at the head of the alley when I passed
Or was there a sniper watching me and counting my final steps?

Was it a stray bullet
Or was I a stray man even though I’m a third of a century old?

Is it friendly fire?
How can it be
When I’ve never made friends with fire in my life?

56-264168-safawan-dahoul-dream-80-180-x-200-cm.-acrylic-on-canvas-2014

Do you think I got in the way of the bullet
Or it got in my way?
So how am I supposed to know when it’s passing and which way it will go?

Is an encounter with a bullet considered a crash in the conventional sense
Like what happens between two cars?
Will my body and my hard bones smash its ribs too
And cause its death?
Or will it survive?

Did it try to avoid me?
Was my body soft?
And did this little thing as small as a mulberry feel female in my maleness?

The sniper aimed at me without bothering to find out that I’m allergic to snipers’ bullets
And it’s an allergy of a most serious kind, and can be fatal.

The sniper didn’t ask my permission before he fired, an obvious example of the lack of civility that has become all too common these days.

For more on Almadhoun’s poetry, visit Cabaret Wittgenstein. For more of Safwan Dahoul’s art, visit Ayyam Gallery.

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art of resistance

The Book To Read: Desert Songs Of The Night.

somuchlove/Cairo by Nour El Demerdash/

Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Years of Arabic Literature is a new anthology of Arabic poetry and prose, published last year by Saqi Books.

It reminded me of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (2010, W.W. Norton & Company), which I really liked, so I decided to get my hands on Desert Songs of the Night as soon as possible.

Desert Songs of the Night presents some of the finest poetry and prose by Arab writers, from the Arab East to Andalusia, over the last fifteen hundred years. It was edited by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey.

I’ve read most of Bushrui’s work on Kahlil Gibran and was really enthusiastic to see him involved in this project. Bushrui died last year, so reading this book felt like the right way of paying respects.

The book itself was a huge task to take on – presenting fifteen centuries of a literature still largely unknown outside of the Arab world, finding a proper way to introduce each period and provide a wider context, linking it all together, choosing what’s important and what can be left out, adding the always present translation doubts…

It wasn’t easy, and that is obvious when reading the book.

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The collection moves from the mystical imagery of the Qur’an and the colorful stories of The Thousand and One Nights, to the powerful verses of longing of Mahmoud Darwish and Nazik al-Mala’ika, and the resistance of the great Fadwa Tuqan.

It includes translated excerpts of works by the major authors of the period, as well as by lesser-known writers of equal significance. The editors stress that Arabic does not necessarily mean Islamic – in this anthology, there are many works by Christian and Jewish authors who formed an integral part of the culture of the Arab world.

Most of this collection covers the seventh to the 15th century, and then the 20th century – the time of revival in Arabic literature. There are many good selections – interesting, unique, important works – but the book left me craving for more structure, for the links binding it all together (literature with the body of history and time).

It would be amazing if each section included an introductory essay by the editors, it would make some of the writing much more understandable and allow the reader to connect all the dots. It would be nice to find out more about the authors and what their art meant in times and spaces they were living in.

All of that being said, this is still a really important anthology and I highly recommend reading it. The variety of the collection offers a good glimpse of the diverse and beautiful world of Arabic literature. Like the old poet Abu Tammam, quoted in the book, described it: “Blood relationship we may lack, but literature is our adopted father”.

We should let literature teach us, let it enable us to grow together, to get to know each other. Also important to mention, like Hanan Al-Shaykh puts it:

“At a time when the world is obsessing about violence and bloodletting in the Arab world, this remarkable anthology, which spans 1,500 years of Arab literary genius, is a stark reminder of the story we keep missing about the region.”

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

The Librarian of Basra

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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, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

(Interview) Hala Alyan: Poetry As Emotion, Memory, Resistance.

hala a vimeo/Hala Alyan, photo via Vimeo/

Hala Alyan is an award winning Palestinian-American poet who has lived in various cities in the Middle East and the United States. Her poems reflect her life – the life of searching, making and remaking, longing and surviving on the food of memories. All of her torn anchors found new waters in her poems.

Alyan was the winner of the 2012 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival Competition and her first book of poetry, Atrium (Three Rooms Press),  a powerful debut, won the  2013 Arab American Book Award. Her third collection, Hijra, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry contest and will be published in the fall this year.

I was thrilled to be able to exchange thoughts with Alyan and dive into her world – the world of captivating poetry, untamed emotions and new ways of seeing, feeling and thinking through words.

How did you start writing, did you feel the great need to express yourself through words, was it a calling in a way?

I’ve written for as long as I can remember; it was a way to feel less lonely as a child and also to escape into other worlds. As I got older, it also became a way to make sense of chaotic environments, messy breakups and the general grit and loveliness of life.

hijra/Hijra by Hala Alyan/

Atrium was the winner of the Arab American Book Award in 2013. Did the success and experience of your first book make it easier to write the second (and the third)? What was it like to go through the process of writing  another collection?

Winning that award was wonderful for me, and I definitely think it helped me get the second book published. It also was such lovely reinforcement for my writing, which enabled me to take more risks in the second and third manuscripts.

The process was a lot easier after the first manuscript, perhaps because I knew what to expect and also knew that it would take time; for Atrium, I was so impatient to see it out in the world!

You are doing your post-doctoral training in the field of clinical psychology. How do you manage writing and working? Does it take away the energy for writing, how do you keep the motivation?

I’m a licensed clinical psychologist now, and it can be a challenge to balance both lives. For the most part, though, I feel very lucky to be able to exist in the two worlds. I’ve said often that I believe each field complements the other. My work as a clinician allows me to be a more effective and compassionate writer.

Also, something I’m learning about myself is that I’m not the kind of writer that can sit and write for several hours at a time. I like the urgency of only having a lunch hour to write; I’m more productive when there’s a time limit.

What do you do when “dry days” come along, how do you feel when you are not able to write anything?

I’ve learned to stop resisting those days, just accepting that sometimes I won’t be able to write but also trusting that it will come back. I used to struggle with that a lot, believing myself to be an imposter just because I couldn’t always sit down and summon the “muse”. But now I recognize that it’s just all part of the process.

Your third collection of poetry, Hijra, will be published in the fall this year. Poems in Hijra explore what it is like to lose home, language, and culture as the result of political conflicts over which you have no control. Could you tell me more about the book?

They are basically poems of exodus and flight, a mediation on how physical space is refashioned, transmitted and remembered. The hope was to write poetry that creates a dialogue between two worlds (land of origin vs. new land), using language as a cultural vehicle. Many of the poems follow women from unnamed, war-torn villages/countries as they migrate to the West.

Your poems deal with exile, with being a refugee. With all the conflicts around the world, climate change and poverty, migrations became inevitable for so many people. Do you feel the responsibility to bear witness to these hard times with your poems?

Yes, I do feel that it’s a universal responsibility to bear witness, using whatever tools one has at their disposal: whether that’s through poetry, journalism, art, song, photography, law, etc. Those of us with the privilege of having a voice that’s heard have the responsiblity to amplify the voices of those that don’t.

How do you keep the connection with Palestine? Do you visit often? Do you feel the pressure, like some of your poems reveal, to at least watch the news and be constantly informed about the situation there?

I hope to visit again soon. I think the connection stays alive through family, stories, reading the wonderful writing that comes from Palestinian writers. I do feel like it’s important for people (not just myself) to remain informed on and invested in the situation in Palestine.

linking the body/photo © Sama Alshaibi, Linking the Body and the Desert/

What are some Arab writers (poetry and prose) you hold dear to your heart, whose writing inspires you?

So many! Etel Adnan, Fady Joudah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Khaled Mattawa, Philip Metres, Mahmoud Darwish, Deema Shehabi and more.

What is the beauty and power of poetry, in your words – why is it important?

It’s important for many reasons, not least of all that it grants the reader access to another world, another mind. Poetry rearranges things, which can help us see things not only in a different way, but sometimes in a clearer way. The best poetry tugs at you, releases something authentic—an emotion, a memory, even resistance.

 ✍

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