Meet Four Inspiring Palestinian Poets

Palestine. A nation full of people who must fight to preserve their identities. As Israeli settlements fill and have filled the land, many Palestinians are facing and have faced death and discrimination in their own homes. In the midst of these inhumane circumstances, many poets have emerged as they express the mixture of sentiments current matters have imposed on themselves and their people. Here are four Palestinian poets who have shared their perspective with the world through spoken word or written poetry.

1.) Khaled Juma

Individuals tend to only think about the violence and persecution refugees face when they hear the word “refugee.” Many seem to forget that these refugees are creating their own individual identities through their tactics for survival, storytelling, and other mediums of art. Khaled Juma grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and went on to become a successful writer who has produced several plays, poems, and even children’s books.  One of Khaled Juma’s poems, “Oh Rascal Children of Gaza” is short and succinct yet powerful and penetrating. The poet begins his piece by introducing how the young children in Gaza used to always mark their presence with their childish behavior such as screaming and stealing. By repeating the word “you” in lines 2-4, Khaled Juma speaks to the children and outlines all of the immaturity they possessed. The writer highlights the climax of the poem when he says, “Come back”. These two words stand alone as a separate line and almost turn the poem inside out as the rest of the lines express the author’s yearn for the children’s presence and all that they did.

Due to the war, many children in Gaza were killed and this poem demonstrates the difficulty and almost impossibility for the human mind to come to terms with such an abrupt, unnatural, and unjustified disappearance.

2.) Rafeef Ziadah

Rafeef Ziadah is a courageous spoken word poet who uniquely illustrates the frustration and struggle many Palestinians face when others fail to understand that political matters cannot be avoided as they somehow affect everyone’s personal life. Therefore, separating themselves from the politics is unrealistic. Rafeef Ziadah’s official website writes, “She received an Ontario Arts Council Grant from the Word of Mouth program to create her debut spoken-word album Hadeel.” In one of her major works of spoken word, “We Teach Life, Sir”, Ziadah describes her encounter with a journalist. The journalist asked her to talk about Palestine’s people with the absence of politics. She reveals her exasperation by conveying that political matters have prompted bombs to touch the streets of her home. Thus, it is impossible to tell a story about Palestinians without describing the effects of the war. She states, “We teach life, sir” repetitively throughout the poem as survival, while the oppressors continue to oppress, is of utmost importance.

3.) Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish was a bold and creative poet who went through much hardship during his journey as a writer. Poetry Foundation reports, “In the 1960s Darwish was imprisoned for reciting poetry and traveling between villages without a permit.” His words played a large role in protests as he refused to shun his feelings and experiences of Israeli settlements by voicing them in his works.  Through his poem, “I Have a Seat in the Abandoned Theater”, Mahmoud Darwish discusses fate and free will. From the way I have at least interpreted this poem, Darwish sets up the scene in a theater where he is watching a bad play. Throughout the poem he conveys his search for “the author” or in other words, the one who has control over everyone’s fate. Towards the end, Darwish comes to the conclusion that everyone is the “author” or everyone as a whole controls their fate. He ends off by concluding that in the mayhem of war, remaining neutral is not a possibility. Therefore, if individuals fail to pick a stance, they will automatically allow the more powerful side to remain in power. My favorite line is when the author states, “How is this my concern? I’m a spectator”.  The author notes how it is everyone’s public responsibility to do something in matters of desperation. In the real world, one should not merely watch. We must engage.

4.) Naomi Shihab Nye

While Naomi Shihab Nye grew up in the United States, her father’s experience as a refugee sparked some of her writings. In some of her poems, she talks about being Palestinian and the pride yet exhaustion that comes with preserving and educating others about this identity. Poetry Foundation reports, “Her experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work.”  Nye’s poem, “Blood” begins with her describing how her father used to always talk about the small details of being Arab such as being skilled to “catch a fly in his hands” or suppose that “watermelon could heal fifty ways”. She goes on to discuss how the war and Israeli settlements have pierced so many people as she goes on to demonstrate her father’s wounds by saying, “It is too much for him, neither of his two languages can reach it.”

Altogether, these remarkable poets have beautifully composed verses by connecting personal encounters to the larger vision of Palestine and what it means to be a Palestinian. As you can recognize, these poets’ individual version of Palestine and what it means to be a Palestinian overlap and carry similar themes.

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