Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet, passed away on Saturday 9 August 2008, following complications after major heart surgery in Houston, Texas. He was just 67. He never stopped writing and performing his poetry, which has inspired thousands upon thousands of people of all ages and nationalities, and will surely continue to inspire them. He is one of the most renowned, respected and loved poets of today’s world, a poetic giant who became the voice of Palestine, of Palestinian loss and exile, and in later years its voice of conscience. Mahmoud Darwish commanded audiences of thousands, thirsty for the sounds he uttered, wherever he went in the Arab world. In July 2008 he gave a massively attended reading in Haifa, back there for the first time since the early 1970s, and later another packed performance in Ramallah to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in al-Barweh, Palestine, and had to flee with his family in 1948, only returning later. He grew up under Israeli occupation to become the world’s best-known Palestinian poet. He published his first collection of poetry in 1960. Jailed several times, he left to go to Moscow in 1971, afterwards living in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris, before settling in Ramallah in the early 1990s. He published over 30 collections of poetry and of prose, with some of these works being translated into 35 languages. In 1981, he started the literary quarterly Al-Karmel, which he later edited from Ramallah. In 1995, his book Memory for Forgetfulness (trans. Ibrahim Muhawi) was published in English. A French anthology of his work Poesie: La Terre nous est étroite was published in March 2000 by Gallimard. Several collections of his work in English translation have been published, notably Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?, Archpelago Books, 2006, Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (California University Press, 2003), and The Adam of Two Edens (Syracuse University Press & Jusoor, 2000, reviewed in Banipal No 12, Autumn 2001). In 2001 he received the Lannan Foundation’s Award for Cultural Freedom and in 2004 the Prince Claus Fund Award. The latest translation of his poetry is the bilingual volume The Butterfly’s Burden, translated by Palestinian American doctor Fady Joudah, which brings together three of Mahmoud Darwish’s collections. On 29 September 2008 Fady Joudah was awarded the 2008 Saif Ghobash – Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for this work, by unanimous decision of the judges. In the press release, the judges remark on “the translator’s sensitivity to the nuances and music of the original texts”. Mahmoud Darwish was thrilled to learn that Fady Joudah’s translation had won the prize. It seems inexplicable that his life has come to such a sudden and tragic end.  The Palestinian people held three days of national mourning declared by President Mahmoud Abbas, who said: “Words cannot describe the depth of sadness in our hearts.” See Al Jazeera’s tribute portrait of Mahmoud Darwish, by Jacky Rowland: Also Mahmoud Darwish reading his poems ‘Mural’ and ‘A State of Siege’ to a typically huge audience.

-from Inpress Books UK with permission