A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry, ed. by Naomi Foyle, Smokestack

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The Arab world is full of poetry, and always has been, but for most people, I suspect it’s a completely closed world. With the possible exception of Rumi, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, badly translated by Fitzgerald, most people will be totally unaware of one of the most vibrant poetry cultures in the world.

This book, therefore, represents a brief glimpse into an unknown literature for many. There is another dimension to this, however, in that it represents a literature that is very much under siege; the poets included here are sometimes living in exile, sometimes imprisoned but always under some  kind of pressure to be political or talk about things they would probably rather not write about. As Neruda said when asked why he didn’t write poems about flowers any more, “there is the blood in the streets”.

And here it is, in Fatena Al Ghorra’s ‘Blood’:

 

 

     Red as it should be

     Flowing like that

     Drilling in my soul a place for screaming

     Flowing as if an explosion

     Leaving carnage behind

     It keeps flowing without boredom or forgiveness …

 

 

This blood could, of course, be several things; it needn’t be the blood spilled in the streets, it could be a metaphor for passion, for country, it could even represent menstrual blood. But you can’t help making political connections when the poet is a Palestinian exile in a country not her own (in this case, the US.)

There are some names I recognise here: Fady Joudah, Mahmoud Darwish and Naomi Shihab Nye. But there are lots of unfamiliar names to me, and it’s always great to discover new writers. Sarah Saleh’s sequence of short poems, ‘to the cities that changed us’, has this to say about Sydney in 2014:

 

 

     your graceful fingers wrote

     the history of your people

     the way spiders

     spin their silken webs

     of survival.

 

A metaphor perhaps of the fragility of exile. This attachment to the fragility of life is perhaps one of the most telling resistances of this poetry. This is a poetry about the survival of the human spirit against all the oppressive forces marshalled against it. There are some beautiful and some ugly truths in this book. It also contains the poems in Arabic, printed from right to left as they should be (turn the book over, and read from ‘back’ to ‘front’.) it’s been judiciously edited; and I’m just sorry that my lack of Arabic makes me unable to comment on the quality of the translations.

 

A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry edited by Naomi Foyle, Smokestack, £9.99

 

 

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Comments

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Wolfgar Miere

Mon 23rd Apr 2018 16:03

I now have this book and would highly recommend it. Thank you Steven for drawing my attention to it.

The very first poem in the book is “An Arab at Ben-Gurion Airport” by Marian Makhoul, it is a wake up call similar to what my previous comment was attempting to convey.

Please consider purchasing this. I have posted one of the poems on my photographs on my blog.

David.

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Wolfgar Miere

Tue 17th Apr 2018 13:47

It is quite within the realms of possibility I could be prevented from entering Israel for possessing such a book. The possession of it in itself may not be illegal but much could be assumed by it, and a case could easily be made.

When I departed Ben Gurion earlier this month I was detained for over an hour and questioned at length regarding my work and who I had visited whilst there. This even though I have diplomatic status.

I work for an organisation which is deemed sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, refusal of my entry would be deemed desirable to many in authority (though not all by any means)

Recently in Hebron I stood on Al-Shuhada Street with a Palestinian female associate, she was approached by an IDF soldier and asked to identify herself, when she identified as a Palestinian she was asked to walk ten paces across the street as Palestinians are not permitted to be where she was. That shouldn't happen either, should it?

The fact that you question if it does speaks volumes about the worlds knowledge of and its attitude towards the everyday problems and issues in that part of the world.

Broad minded opinions do not always filter down to those in authority on the street in Israel or the occupied territories, I am not anti Israeli in any way but I bloody well have seen the truth of the place, and you won't find it written between the bindings of a book.

I am back in the mix on 30 April, thankfully I will then be able to speak with some authority again.

David

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Julian (Admin)

Tue 17th Apr 2018 09:56

You shouldn't be prevented from entering Israel because of poetry, surely? As I understand it, Yehuda Amichai's work was appreciated by both "sides", his Wildpeace being read at the 1994 awards ceremony in Oslo when Yasir Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres received the Nobel Peace Prize. Pity it didn't last, that these poems needed to be written.

Thank you for an interesting, intriguing review Steven.

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Wolfgar Miere

Sat 14th Apr 2018 05:51

I will be purchasing this prior to returning to the West Bank, dare I read it on my flight or walk through the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion with it on display?

The answer is testament to its authenticity, influence and impact.

David.

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