The final part of Guy Mannes-Abbott's conversation with Mourid Barghouti about the "poetry of the pavement," Palestinian writers, and the internationality of literature.
VI. Midnight & Other Poems allows Barghouti to emerge as a “poet of the pavement”; repeatedly banished and permanently looking awry at things. Poems of the Pavement is actually the name of his fifth collection published in 1980. “This is the real start of my voice” he once told me before explaining the context -court poets and political rhetoricians- with figurative argumentation. “So, okay: you occupy the autostrat with your poetry, your bombastic tone, but give me the pavement! Poems of the pavement? I am not in the mainstream -I need the pavement. You take the street -you’ve already taken it, it isn’t mine. I’ll be confined to this. I’m happy with this” -happy enough to produce six further poetry collections, a 700-page Collected Works, the memoir and book-length poem Midnight -published just after his sixtieth birthday.
This selection from those poems, which includes several from the ‘pavement’, also finally allows I Saw Ramallah to be read as the memoir of a great poet. After the jolt of Mahmoud Darwish’s recent death, Mourid wrote of his friend that he “was at the centre of Arab culture in the 20th century because he was a poet, and a Palestinian.” While Darwish was widely considered the greatest living Arab poet, it’s a burdensome mantle that Barghouti will be reluctant to assume.
Once, when talking of his admiration for Darwish, he pointed to a shared creative restlessness. “Do you know what the title of his seventh collection was? - when he was, by now, a legend. Attempt No. 7. Just that,” he chuckled delightedly, “the number 7 not the word. It is the same with me, poetry should be this attempt.”
Meanwhile, nothing should blind us to the depth and range of Palestinian literature, exemplified today in the levity of Randa Jarrar and soul of Adania Shibli. While Jarrar writes in English, Shibli’s work is translated into French and Italian though not yet English -excepting a couple of very fine short stories.
Exactly four years since appearing on the Southbank, Mourid’s first collection of poems in English was published on the day he returned to read at the Poetry International Festival. Finally, readers of his memoir and stunned listeners to his reading were able to pick up his poems too. Each of them knew they were plucking flowers from the brink of being bombed.
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