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The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Breytenbach on Darwish

South African writer and anti-apartheid activist talks to The National about his friendship with Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It's revealing, perceptive and moving. Breytenbach
tells a story of a holiday the pair once took in Ramallah. They were put out to find that they were expected to have an audience with Yasser Arafat. “We were not interested in that,” says Breytenbach. “We didn’t want to be recuperated… And also we couldn’t see what poetry we would be talking about when we talked to Arafat.” But despite his unwillingness, circumstances seem to have forced Darwish to give in. “Very early one morning in the hotel we were staying in, he came, Mahmoud came and talked to us and said: ‘I couldn’t get out of it. I promised him…’ So he was doing a little bit of carrying and fetching… He was not a totally cut-off rebel.”

Indeed, one of the facets of Darwish that Breytenbach singles out for special praise is the way in which the man and the monument are brought into an uneasy dialogue in the work. “He had this hard gift,” says Breytenbach, “of somehow being both private and very public in the same poem, to the extent that I think one can really see the poet at work, struggling with his own private demons... At the same time I don’t think he ever extrapolated from there. He’s not trying to imagine that whatever was ailing him was kind of an incarnation or a representation emblematic of the larger cause – or the other way around, for that matter.”
I also loved this article, by Ed Lake, for coining the word "bonhomous" to describe the atmosphere at the Dubai festival, where he was speaking to Breytenbach.

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