The Poetry of Absence

At a recent Cairo literary event, my friend Yasmine P.—who has spent the last three years living in Jerusalem, and continues to travel back frequently to finish her documentary film—complained of under-attendance.

If this was a literary event in Palestine, Yasmine told me, there would not be one free chair. The place would be packed. (And, she said a bit disapprovingly, people would’ve come on time.)

And the recent Ramallah premier of Kama Qal a-Shai’r, or As the Poet Said, backs up Yasmine’s assertion. The film is set around the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. According to the review in Ha’aretz:

This is a film whose text is pure poetry, nothing but poetry, read all throughout the movie. Most of the images are accompanied by Darwish’s clear, musical voice. In this sense, watching its premier in the packed Al-Kasaba theater in mid-January in Ramallah was an intriguing experience. The audience was spellbound. No, they didn’t recite the better-known poems along with the film, but they drank them in eagerly, silently.

The film isn’t entirely successful, according to the reviewer.

The visual images cannot compete with Darwish’s metaphors, and the attempts are at times downright uncomfortable (a horse struggling to climb up a sandy dune; billowing cigarette smoke; an Arab peasant woman walking by an old locomotive; a stream of clear water).

But still, it seems to have moved him:

There was something horrific about the contrast between the ends of the earth where the poems had been read (Tanzania, Spain, France), the places where Darwish had traveled, and the fact that the theater was packed with people who cannot come and go as they wish. Freedom of movement – the standard of Western democracy – stops at the Qalandiyah checkpoint.

I would like to see it in Cairo.

Watch a trailer from the film.

Other news from Palestine: A Ben Gurion University researcher now says that, during the time of the Naqba, Israelis destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian books.