These observations from the moment, on the ground, are thrilling, moving and necessary. They counter media bias, alert us to action, and give us a glimpse of what it feels like to be in Gaza. How much more so, then, might a poem or story, honed by a brilliant writer until it is dense with image and meaning? As the outpouring of grief at Mahmoud Darwish's death last year showed, literature, and poetry in particular, has a particular place in Palestinian culture -- and has had a particular place in reaching out from Palestine to the rest of the world, from Ghassan Kanafani's "Letter from Gaza" to Mourid Barghouti's Midnight.
But only a few Palestinian writers are being translated. In Palestine, the Khalil Sakakini Centre and the House of Poetry have both fostered new writers and new magazines. In the UK, Banipal and Modern Poetry in Translation have both had special Palestine issues in recent years, which have shown the depth and range of work being produced. Telegram's Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women, edited by Jo Glanville, introduced a number of new voices, such as Adania Shibli.
When I interviewed Adania in early December 2008, she spoke passionately about the writers she knew in Gaza, about the intensity of their work and the way that Palestinian poetry was changing in response to the conditions of siege. That was before the invasion. When the news and images of Gaza (not from Gaza) began to appear, I emailed Adania and offered to host a selection of writing on the blog: her choice of writers, immediate and new voices with essential things to say and powerful styles in which to say them.
Over the next month, we'll be publishing the work that she selected on the blog, as it arrives from Gaza. The first group of writers to arrive is diverse in age, background, experience, and style, but I find all of their voices compelling. On Monday, there will be a selection of short pieces by novelist, playwright and political scientist Atef Abu Saif, who lives and teaches in Gaza.
Following Abu Saif, whose stories will appear over three days, the blog will feature work from:
Soumaya Susiposted as it arrives from the Arabic translators have very graciously given time and support to this project, excited by its urgency and by discovering new work. Each writer presents translators with a different challenge and promise, and each will be translated differently. Excitingly, translator Isis Nusair is working on Khaled Jumaa's work with Michael Rosen and Shaun Levin, two anti-Zionist Jewish writers, whose acts of translation demonstrate how literature can build community and solidarity.
Nasr Jamil Shaath
Abu Saif's pieces have been translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, who also translated Mahmoud Darwish's Memory for Forgetfulness, a sequence of prose poems framed by the August 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Abu Saif's pieces - microstories, fragments - are dateless, although filled with precise detail of season and place. Minutely focused on a gesture, a piece of graffiti, on the author's own act of seeing, they are both like news stories - in their brevity, their concrete detail - and utterly unlike anything the media can offer.
In a 2008 Guardian article about the Poetry Translation Centre's ambitious tour and chapbook series, Sarah Maguire, who is translating Faten al-Gharra's work for us, wrote:
Poetry in this country is our favourite minority artform, largely greeted with bafflement, often with dismay. And yet we live alongside people for whom poetry is a central, essential passion. My hope is that by attempting to make their poems at home in our language, we can also translate a little of their enthusiasm. Poetry thrives through translation.With this selection, we hope to show not only that poetry thrives through translation, but that people thrive through poetry, not only being written but being heard. The act of translation -- whether literally between languages, or metaphorically from the page onto a blog -- is a catalyst, a helping hand, to bring readers to the writing, and through that writing to resonant emotions and truths.
As Adania says: we are "trying to make the words of Gaza louder than those of the bullets and the bombings." Please come back to listen over the next month.