V. Four years on from 2004, a first proper collection of Barghouti’s poems is due in English. Midnight & Other Poems includes the first full version of the long title poem, written during 2004 and published in Arabic as the year turned into 2005. It’s a poem about a man in a room with an open window through which visions, stories, memories pour in, refusing him any rest. It’s not just any midnight either, but the very cusp of New Year. Nor is it an English midnight. In Arabic, Mourid tells me, the word means ‘half night’ - a solution of day and night- a much more ambiguous notion than a pivotal or starting moment.
Rooms with windows like this recur in I Saw Ramallah. On his long awaited ‘return’ to Ramallah, Barghouti stays in the home of a family friend. The window in his room opens on the familiar sight of olive groves not seen for exactly thirty years and an Israeli settlement on top of the hill. An insistent rush of memories and “countless questions” deprive him of sleep on his last night there.
Mourid’s Midnight is the product of a world gone mad, thrown headlong into a nightmare of barbaric appetites. Nothing is as it should be or even appears any more. For Palestinians the early 1990 agreements at Oslo offered limited hopes but also made promises and commitments to them. By the Millennium, settlement building on the Occupied ‘West Bank’ had continued at a terrible pace, promises of every sort had been broken, and their own leadership was fatally compromised by strategic errors. Used to chronic injustice and having survived acute injustices they were now thrown into another round of both at the same time, crimes against humanity of a specific unimaginable order.
In I Saw Ramallah Barghouti wrote “I am a child of mountains and stability” who has “tamed” himself “to the feeling that the coffee pot is not mine.” Here, in Midnight, Mourid writes of “hills that follow each other like rhymes/ hills that you shield, instead of being shielded by them” -a grotesque inversion. Certainly this is poetry of human extremity, the world’s madness concentrated in the Palestinians existential torment, further gathered in the ferocious gusts of unending nocturnal distress. It is a day like no other in human history, and just another day in an endless night.
However, whilst Midnight renders the world at an end, the poet also delivers a “message of doubt” for “the victorious”. Every time I read its closing lines I recall Mourid talking of the hope he has found on the ‘West Bank" and Gaza, lessons learnt from '48, '67, '87 and 2000.
“It’s really amazing, little acts of resistance. They demolish the house, and they cut the trees and people stay where they are, in the rubble! A temporary is raised, and the neighbours bring some help and the family life is resumed in some way or another in their place!”
It would be wrong to describe Midnight as a poem of hope, it is not. Not even hope against hope. Instead it expresses the resistance of a people to ongoing attempts to erase them in a work that embodies poetry’s constitutive resistance to closure. It contains a highly potent claim on the future: for new life, here, on this earth, and now, in this same dust.
VI. Midnight & Other Poems allows Barghouti to emerge as a “poet of the pavement”; repeatedly banished and permanently looking awry at things.
The sixth and final part of our exclusive serialisation of Guy Mannes-Abbott's introduction to Mourid Barghouti's Midnight, celebrating the book's publication by Arc, appears tomorrow.
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