New Palestinian poetry flourishes online

Cover of Najwan Darwish's collection of poetry

Najwan Darwish’s new volume of poetry, out soon from NYRB Classics

The last few weeks have seen a generous selection of Palestinian poetry appear in online publications. As well as reflecting the role of the Internet in making translated literature available across the globe, the diversity of the poems themselves shows the many ways in which writers in occupied Palestine and the diaspora use art to explore their particular situations.

First up is Yousef el Qedra’s prose-poem “It Was Concealed in Interpretation,” published in the new edition of online literature journal Asymptote, in a translation by Yasmin Snounu, Edward Morin and Yasser Tabbaa. These lines give a small taste of the dark, passionate and ambiguous intensity of the poem:

The fire said to the desert: Woe to the thirsty, and a thirsty person said: Woe to the fire from my cruelty; the desert’s eyes remained closed, absorbed in imagination.

It’s worth noting the link in the right-hand corner of Asymptote’s page, which allows readers to hear el Qedra reading the poem in the original Arabic.

Similarly vivid and beautiful, but at times much more direct, is an untitled work by Dima Yousef, translated by Fawaz Azem and published on the Arabic Literature (in English) blog. Yousef, a Palestinian living in Damascus, writes movingly of the pain of existence in the midst of the Syrian civil war:

This winter has been very hard without you. My woolen scarves, which you no longer share with me, remain cold, without warmth, an orgy of color devoid of meaning that I wrap around my neck and that only serves to stifle my breaths. I remember our quarrels over one of them that I saw on the shoulder of one of your friends.

Words Without Borders, meanwhile, showcases three poems by Mazen Maarouf, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Nathalie Handal. The triad – “On Death,” “Downtown“ and A Stray Bullet – demonstrate Maarouf’s spare, often ironic style:

and after passing by the washer
and my mother (exhausted
in spite of the washer),
a stray bullet
veered slightly off course—
by the force
of gravity—

Specialist poetry magazine The Bakery has six poems by Ashraf Zaghal, translated by Ghada Moura, in its “featured poets” series. The magazine describes Zaghal as amongst “the first generation of Palestinian poets who have introduced a new aesthetics and a new poetic sensitivity into post-1948 Palestinian poetry, moving away from the common national struggle diction and thematic used by the late great Mahmoud Darwish and his followers.”

The works featured are “The Wind’s Actions,” “Our Absent Garden,” “Station,” “A Red Hand,” “Snow Metamorphoses” and “A Plan,” excerpted here:

Tomorrow I will start a new day
A different day
I will start a day without a wristwatch
Without a cell phone
Without a time frame
I will start a new day with the idea of “day”
I will start a day without “day” …..

Finally, the NYRB Classics Tumblr features several poems by Najwan Darwish, also translated by Kareem James abu-Zeid, the trailers for a book which I will be reviewing on The Electronic Intifada in the coming weeks.


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.