Review by Theresa Wolfwood. Director of the Barnard-Boecker Center Foundation, Victoria, BC, Canada.
“The seed sprouts even within the heart of the dead./ Morning busts forth from darkness.” Fadwa Tuqan
Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet in exile, has said, “literature is also resistance” The current poetry of resistance is important as part of a greater history and cultural resistance of Palestine and its Arab neighbours, all of whom have resisted European, Ottoman and the present Zionist invasions and occupations. The poems in this intense collection are an expression of the beauty of life and the horrors of injustice, compressed into urgent words as though written on the run; but they also express the range of ‘normal’ emotions and experiences. Living a ‘normal’ life, celebrating weddings, lovers, births, family and friends is also a form of resistance.
It is impossible to credit every contributor in such a comprehensive collection; some contributors are well-known in their own published works, like Darwish, and many appear in English anthologies. The editor provides notes, biographies, a good introduction, references and sources to enhance the understanding and pleasure of readers. I cannot read Arabic, but the English translations appear sensitive and appropriate, given the differences between the languages.
The anthology is divided into sections which codify and express the many facets of resistance poetry. The second section, Elegies, has a poem by Salma al-Khadra ‘al-Jayyaousi, better known as an editor and prose writer. In Dearest Love II she writes of the terrible results of war, “For the crows of death rumbled in every direction./ The palm raged in prayer,/ And the pines fell/ Upon the slopes of Galilee.”
In the section, Love of Palestine, in Love Palestinian-style, Abd al-Latif ‘Aql writes, “In times of drought you are my figs and olives…And when soldiers smash my head/ And force me to sip the cold of prison/ to forget you-I love you even more.”
In Steadfastness, or Sumoud in Arabic, a favourite word to describe the commitment to the land of so many millions, The Path of affection by Laila ’Alush says full of hope, “…the rich soil was bright/ With Arab reserve./ And it sang out./ believe me,/ With affection.”
In the final section Victory, in A love poem to my aunt- a named pursued, Mayy Sayigh writes, “… You will glow eternally, shackling the occupiers,/Lashing them with the sun’s whip.”
The last poem ends the collection with another hopeful note predicting the end of the tragedy in The seagull and the negation of the negation by Fadwa Tuqan, “…the horizon parted, and the house/greeted the light of day.”
This is a powerful and rich volume to be read and re-read, voices that call out against the obliteration of memory. In the process of absorbing these poems, the solidarity and activism of appreciative readers will take root in the rich soil of Palestine.