The Palestinian author talks about his latest poetry collection and the grief of recently losing his wife, the Egyptian author Radwa Ashour.
Mourid Barghouti brings his poetry to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Mourid Barghouti, one of the Arab world’s most celebrated authors, is making a welcome return to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature – this time not as a novelist, but as an equally gifted poet.
The 70-year-old Palestinian will appear at two festival sessions to discuss his latest collection, Midnight and Other Poems, which has been translated into English.
Barghouti describes the volume’s release as bittersweet – it exposes his work to new audiences and is a way to honour his recently deceased wife, the Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour, who translated the collection.
During your career, you have written novels, memoirs and poetry. Where the first two can be structurally defined, would you say writing poetry is more about capturing moments rather than telling a story?
I try to receive life in different ways because I don’t want to repeat myself. Every poem is different. Sometimes you are catching a moment, while others you are catching a place, a passion or a mixture of all of these elements.
Now, my new work Midnight is basically a book-long poem that embraces all the feelings a person has alone at midnight. He is alone with his reality, imagination and nightmares, which bounce from the windows of his room and fall back in his bed where he lays.
He is basically reliving his whole life, from childhood to where is he is now. In this kind of poem, all sorts of imagery intermingle together and represent itself in different lines and rhymes, and this makes it complex.
By avoiding repeating yourself, would you say that with each work you are competing with yourself?
It’s not a sense of competing with myself. What I am trying to do is give all my senses a chance to surrender to the moment that I am trying to deal with in the poem. It’s like throwing yourself into the ocean and allowing your body to float and find its way back. Poetry is an attempt to find the surprising from the normal, the amusing from the banal and the extraordinary from the ordinary. That is tiring and that’s why I believe that poetry is a lot like love in that it requires the maximum degree of attention.
So when you are travelling, are you paying keen attention to everything?
Only if it interests me, or I would be absolutely exhausted. If I am interested in a person then I would really pay attention to everything around him or her. I also find this is the best way to live genuinely, because you can’t look at the world with half an eye. This is the way to lose a friendship or lover.
You are also known for works such as I Was Born There, I Was Born Here and I Saw Ramallah. Both books cast a keen eye on life in Palestine under Israeli occupation. The acclaim and impact of these works almost had you pegged as an unofficial spokesperson of the Palestinian cause. Do you feel comfortable with such labels?
I am a spokesperson for myself and not for any Palestinian cause, party or faction. I am an independent person and try to keep it that way.
What drew me to poetry, instead of being a businessman, engineer or partisan, is to keep my ability to criticise and keep my critical mind active, because I think most of our problems come from a lack of a critical approach to life. This closed belief in the self or party is the stem of all evil. You need to have a sense of doubt and not just blindly say “yes” to anything.
Does that make you more vulnerable to criticism?
Well, yes, I am vulnerable and it is not an easy life. There are lot of people who find me annoying and complain that I am always criticising them, but I feel this to be the duty of the intellectual – to challenge the status quo. Even if our establishments are doing good things, we challenge and say we can do things better or more elegantly.
One of the main themes of your work is the differing concepts of exile, and you have lived in several countries. What is home to you?
This is a very sad question for me now. We were a family of three, with my son and Radwa, and she sadly left us in December. Now it’s just the two of us and Radwa’s absence took with it some of the important definitions of home. Now, geography to me is ambiguous. I don’t know where to go or settle. My son is working with the United Nations and I am left to answer your question – but I will do it later on. I am not thinking about that now.
• Out of Place – An Evening with Mourid Barghouti is on Wednesday, March 4, at 7.30pm at InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City. Tickets cost Dh70. He will also appear at Desert Stanzas on Thursday, March 5. Participants will be picked up by bus at the hotel at 7.30pm. Tickets cost Dh375. For more, details visit www.emirateslitfest.com