Friday Finds: ‘Palestine Twenty Times in a Sentence’

The the Los Angeles Review of Books, Fady Joudah translates three poems by Maya Abu-Alhayyat, and three Palestinian-American poets— Deema Shehabi, Lena Tuffaha, and Hala Alyan—read the poems:

As Joudah writes in his introduction, Maya Abu-Alhayyat is a Palestinian poet, novelist, short-story writer, editor, children’s-book author, and workshop leader who lives in Jerusalem.

He writes: “For the last 20 years her poems seem to live on a carousel. Given enough time, whatever changes in craft may take place in them, the poems return to speak the same story. Israeli occupation and colonialism try to choke even Palestinian art. Yet always the poem survives, passes through us ‘like a miracle.’

The three translated poems are “We,” “Massacres,” and “I Don’t Ask Anymore.”

The poems are unafraid to speak directly to the reader, sometimes ironically and sometimes urgently, baring the speaker as they also bore into the listener. They speak about the horrors of daily life conversationally, although with an insistent thrum. The poem “Massacres” opens: “Massacres teach me not to wait / for those who’ll be pulled out of the rubble, / and not to follow the stories of survivors./ I go on with my day without pausing for wonders.”

The endings often lift with a balloon-like surprise, leaving the reader to drift and then catch hold again.

A volume of Abu-Alhayyat’s selected poems, to be titled You Can Be the Last Leaf, is forthcoming from Milkweed Books next year. You can also read six poems by Abu al-Hayyat, in Joudah’s translation, in Asymptote.