I believe poetry is the voice of the soul transcending racial, religious and political differences and bringing many together in harmony. So I with the voice of the soul here in our now multicultural country urge those who are soul–voiced to constantly help maintain harmony in our diversity.
I have met many Arab poets over the years at poetry festivals in Iraq and Lebanon and realise how their tradition of poetry has continued for hundreds of years.
Professor Jabra Ibrahim Jabra the Head of the department of Literature at Baghdad University helped me collect poems for my anthology of Arabic poetry ‘Feathers and the Horizon.’
As a Palestinian and he told me a great deal about Mahmoud Darwish a highly acclaimed Palestinian poet. He knew how I feel deeply about the suffering of the Palestinian people.
He gave me this poem by Mahmoud Darwish to publish in my anthology:
Tighten my fetters,
Confiscate my papers and books,
Fill my mouth with dust.
Poetry is the blood in my heart,
Salt in bread, moisture in my eyes.
It is written with fingernails, with daggers,
I shall proclaim in my detention cell,
In the bathroom, in the stable,
Under the lash, manacled,
In the violence of chains,
That a million birds
On the branches of my heart,
Are singing fighting songs.
Professor Jabra said that Mahmoud Darwish is considered to be the most important contemporary Arab poet. He was born in 1942 in the village of Barweh in the Galilee, which was razed to the ground by the Israelis in 1948.
As a result of his political activism he faced house arrest and imprisonment. Darwish was the editor of Ittihad Newspaper before leaving in 1971 to study for a year in the USSR. Then he went to Egypt where he worked in Cairo for Al-Ahram Newspaper and in Beirut, Lebanon as an editor of the Journal of Palestinian Issues. He was also the director of the Palestinian Research Center.
Darwish was a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and lived in exile between Beirut and Paris until his return in 1996 to Palestine.
His poems are known throughout the Arab world, and several of them have been put to music.
His poetry has gained great sophistication over the years, and has enjoyed international fame for a long time. He has published around 30 poetry and prose collections, which have been translated into 35 languages.
He is the editor in chief and founder of the prestigious literary review Al Karmel, which has resumed publication in January 1997 out of the Sakakini Centre offices.
He published in 1998 the poetry collection: Sareer el Ghariba (Bed of the Stranger), his first collection of love poems.
In 2000 he published Jidariyya (Mural) a book consisting of one poem about his near death experience in 1997. The same year a documentary was produced about him by French TV directed by noted French-Israeli director Simone Bitton.
He published his book of poetry “Stage of Siege” in 2002.
He is a commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters an honorary member of the Sakakini Centre.
Professor Jabra also spoke about anger and how in his view the West should understand why there is anger especially when one considers the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Professor Jabra gave me this short poem by Iraqi poet Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri to emphasize this.
Transplant of the conscience.
We doctors have achieved the impossible Transplanting skulls and hearts and restoring rib-cages.
But when will the banner for your final victory be raised –
Transplanting a conscience in minds devoid of conscience?