Culture & Conversation

Poet and Prophet

Tears were shed last year when Mahmoud Darwish died. By those who had only read hundreds of his poems, and by those who had only read one or two. The worst criers were those who’d read none at all but knew he was a great Palestinian poet, a poet of the struggle – a description he grew to dislike.

As the room fills up for an hommage to Mahmoud Darwish, no one is crying but all of us want to. Issa Boulatta, Naim Kattan, Georges Abou-Hsab, John Asfour, and moderator May Telmissany, speak variously of his life (born in 1941 in Palestine; subsequently jailed many times) and death (born in 1941 in Palestine; subsequently jailed many times). But, être palestinien n’est pas un metier, quotes Georges Abou-Hsab, and so Darwish was not really the poet of politics but of dignity. For some, a radical distinction. I have aged, mother, so bring back the childhood stars/so that I/along with the swallows/can chart the path/back to your waiting nest.

Language makes us strangers too. I wonder who are the strangers here. The room is full and eclectic: young, old, Arab, non-Arab, francophone, anglophone. The speakers switch from Arabic and then to either French or English. May Telmissany acquits herself well in all three. She reads his poetry and, for the last one, chokes up. The language is too much. Someone cries for Mahmoud Darwish.

There are no questions afterward and, so, no answers. I go upstairs and check out John Ralston Saul. Now there’s a man I can’t imagine crying, not for long anyways, not when he’s got another book to write. He’s saying that the most important thinking being done in Canada is happening in the Supreme Courts and in the royal commissions.  He wonders why the CBC doesn’t interview native leaders for other subjects than native issues. All actions have to be seen through the filter of language and memory, he says. We need a new language to frame the future because the old language is keeping us in the past. Mahmoud Darwish once said that the only modern thing in the Arab world is its literature, especially its poetry.

John Ralston Saul and Mahmoud Darwish would have had a great time together. What if they had co-written a poem, what would it be like? That’s a burning question so I’ll take a stab:

My mother is cold
My lover is snow
The polar bears are closer
than ever before.

  • 2 Responses to “Poet and Prophet”

    1. Elise Moser

      I love that poem — for being the putative love child ofDarwish and Saul, and also for itself.

    2. Serge Frechette

      Whispers from the ivory tower

      The sea that stands before me
      cold and restless
      wars and famine
      and the seeds that blow ill in the wind
      from stillborn thoughts
      Pandora's box
      they've opened

      Serge Charles Frechette


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