THE POETRY OF ARAB WOMEN: A contemporary anthology. 2001. Handal, Nathalie, editor. Interlink Books USA

Review by Theresa Wolfwood. Director of the Barnard-Boecker Center Foundation, Victoria, BC, Canada.

This extensive collection contains works from more than 80 Arab women poets around the world. The editor writes that poetry is historically revered in Arab culture and is the genre of choice of women writers – many known writers date back 1500 years. For this reviewer it is exciting to discover so many contemporary poets in one volume. Arab woman and their creativity have been sidelined in today´s politicized world and this book is a great contribution to our knowledge of Arab poetry in translation.

The introduction is lengthy and extensive, giving much needed background on all the poets. Bibliographies of each poet are provided at the end of the book. Hard to review every writer even though each deserves it, so I limit myself to a few favourites of these distant sisters, united in the urgency and passion of life.

Fatima Mahmoud is a lone voice from Libya. In her poem, What was Not Conceivable“… The patrolman/inhabits/the first line./sucks out the blood of language,/strips the alphabet/of its dots/and tears out/the plumes of speech.” Words that could have been written yesterday.

From Syria comes the voice of an exile. In Exile, Saniyya Saleh writes, “…Bird, hovering over the horizon/remember/bullets are everywhere–/Remember/me/the perpetual traveller–/ all my life/ I have willed to go forward and have not/advanced beyond/ the borders of my grave.”

Palestinian poets are well represented – from the diaspora as well as the homeland. Mai Sayigh writes from the middle of brutal war in Departure. “…Everything in the universe has an end/except my spilled blood…/ Each time I think of it/you remain as large as your death.”

Suheir Hammad, well known for her Palestinian poetry and as an actor in the film, Salt of the Sea, in broken and beirut, full of sensual imagery, personal and political, writes, “…never forting/where we come from/where we´ve been/and how sweet honey/on the lips of survivors.”

The editor, Nathalie Handel, an international scholar writes of more private passion and universal longing for connection in Forgetting, Love“…I am not afraid of loving. I am afraid of forgetting I loved/…I do believe I must leave everything of me to someone, to someplace/so that they could remember for me.”

I belong to a group of women poets and it is my great pleasure when we meet to read from this anthology aloud these beautiful images of other lives; the words of poets so distant yet so close to us in the universal longing for love, security and place.

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Theresa Wolfwood

Theresa Wolfwood is a writer and activist in Victoria, BC, Canada. Her poetry collection: Love and Resistance was published by Smallberry Press, UK. She serves as the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation (BBCF), Canada.

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