August 9, 2010: Two-year Anniversary of Darwish’s Death

Today marks the second anniversary of poet Mahmoud Darwish‘s death.

So first, a moment of silence.

To remember and celebrate Darwish (and because it’s good literature), I have been reading his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, which will be out from Archipelago in October. Originally published in 1973, it is perhaps the most autobiographical of Darwish’s three prose works. Perhaps also the most polemical. The book was translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, the translator of Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness; Muhawi also helped write this exceptionally charming children’s book.

The Journal begins as a dialogue between a child and “father,” or the narrator’s older self. The narrator says:

Do not write a history now. When you do that, you leave the past behind, and what is required is to call the past to account. Do not write a history except that of your wounds. Do not write a history except that of your exile.

From another era, listen to Sinan Antoon recite Darwish’s “Violins” in Arabic and English:

You can also listen to translator Fady Joudah read Darwish, courtesy of the Center for the Art of Translation.

Or just watch Darwish himself before a large audience in Jordan:

In Journal, Darwish talks about the first time he recited a poem before a large audience. He did not receive quite the same wildly cheering reception:

I was in my last year of elementary school when I recited my first poem in front of a large audience brought together under the auspices of the military governor to celebrate the establishment of Israel. I said some words against the government and its victory, and against oppression and colonization. The village elder was livid. “This boy is going to bring ruin upon us,” he said, “after he’s brought endless trouble to his parents and family.” “Why don’t people heed the rules of hospitality?” he asked, and said other things we hear these days. The military governor, whose name was Dov, called me in the next day. He scolded me, and struck me, but I didn’t cry. Then he said he would prevent my father from working in the quarry by revoking his death permit, and I cried on the way home because that meant I would feel greater cold and hunger, and would not be able to transfer to the secondary school. School costs were exorbitant, for education was not free, as some people believe. At home my father was supportive, and said, “God will provide.”

*Author’s self-pitying note: Just so you know what sort of backwards backwoods I’m traveling in at the moment, the local county library system has plenty of books by Nonie Darwish, but none by Mahmoud.

More Darwish in this week’s news: