Just read of the death of the prominent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in Houston following heart surgery. An incalculable loss for the Palestinian people and the world.
Speaking as an American Jew, Darwish’s poetry gave me an invaluable entry point into the Palestinian cultural soul. I do believe that in addition to his importance as the unofficial Palestinian poet laureate (he grappled publicly with the experience of his people’s exile long before it made the world headlines) he was an artist who transcended his own unique historical time and circumstance. Darwish was truly an artist whose art made a difference in the world.
It’s also important to note that while Darwish was fiercely devoted to his homeland and his cause, his poetry also opened up a significant place of connection between Palestinian and Israeli culture. Darwish himself expressed appreciation, for example, for the poetry of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai – and as recently as 2000, Israel’s then education minister, Yossi Sarid, proposed including some of Darwish’s poems in the Israeli high school curriculum.
Check out Global Voices for thoughts from the world blogosphere about Darwish’s legacy. Click here to read a sampling of his poetry.
For an alternative interpretation of Darwish, read Jonathon Spyer’s August 13, 2008 Jerusalem Post analysis of the man who wrote speech for Yassar Arafat.http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1218446195852&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
I’ve spent the past few weeks reading and re-reading Darwish in translation, starting just before his death. What Spyer says of him in the article that Lisa mentions was also a reaction I had: the poems I’ve read seem incapable of believing that his Israeli enemies had any true, passionate, non-invasive connection to the land.
I’m still reading, and there may be poems I’ve missed or moments that change this impression, but it certainly struck me as a limitation in his work, and in the vision behind it.
I could cite plenty of comparable limitations in other great poets, so this isn’t by any means to damn or reject Darwish outright. But I’m not sure that his stature as a poet or even the beauty of his work equates to a political vision we can easily embrace, or a “place of connection” we’d all agree to inhabit.
Glad to be reading you again, Brant!
Thanks for your comments, Lisa and Eric.
To clarify: when I wrote that I appreciated Darwish’s poetry, I didn’t mean to imply I agreed with his political stances. (I don’t) But do appreciate that he gave me an important and eloquent entry point into the Palestinian experience.
I do believe that an important part of cultural connection and eventual (dare I suggest it?) reconciliation is the ability to understand the point of view of the other, even when (or especially when) that other happens to be my enemy.
I do think that’s right, Brant–and as I continue to read Darwish, several hours today on poems and interviews, I’m struck by how manifold (and self-contradictory) a person and poet he was.
Like Whitman, he contains multitudes. There are poems (and interviews) where he says things I admire and love to hear, and others where he’s obdurate and rejectionist.
Neruda loved Stalin until the end, and Pound, Mussolini; Darwish at his worst is no worse than either, and at his best, he’s truly remarkable. Worth knowing in all of those moods, or most of them, anyway.
(His favorite American poem? Ginsberg’s “Kaddish,” at least according to one interview. Fascinating.)