Friday, August 1, 2008

Howard White, on meeting Palestinian poet Fawaz Turki

I found this at Quillblog, quoting from an essay by Howard White that appears in Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory and Place. It speaks to the unusual power of Palestinian poets to articulate and name Palestinian experience, and thus present a counternarrative to the notion that "there is no such thing as Palestine." It also suggests the seemingly abyssal difference between their situation and our own cultural situation in the United States, as poets and cultural workers.

I met Fawaz at a big Amnesty International jamboree of oppressed writers in Toronto a few years ago, and one of the things that intrigued me about him was a rumour that he might be reduced to chopped liver by a Mossad hit squad at any time. I found it invigorating to think that I was sharing the planet with people who cared enough about poetry to shoot anybody over it.

I made use of a bar break to ask Fawaz if his notoriety wasn’t maybe to do with something besides versifying, like bombing buses. Fawaz was a bit piqued by this suggestion. Any damn fool can chuck a bomb while it takes brains to write a poem, and the Palestinian people understand this, he pointed out.

Back in Jordan it was nothing to have a crowd of several thousand gather on a few hours notice to hear him at an open-air reading. When he appeared in public, throngs of grown women followed him around ululating and fluttering their hands like leaves, chanting his name. His broadsheets outsold the newspapers. Poets like him and his buddies Mahmoud Darweesh and Fawazi el Asmar were far more important to the Palestinian cause than bomb-throwers, and far more worrisome to the authorities, and this was because of their ability to express the feelings of their people, Turki said. That is why so many of the poets known to Amnesty were behind bars, not only in Palestine but around the world.

You can see Fawaz talk about his life and work here.

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