Monday, August 11, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish, Poet Laureate of the Palestinians, 1942-2008

Deomocracy Now program on Mahmoud Darwish:

Three days of mourning have been declared in the West Bank and Gaza to mark the death of Mahmoud Darwish, the Poet Laureate of the Palestinians. Darwish was considered one of the most important Arab poets. He died on Saturday at the age of sixty-seven years old at the Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston from complications following heart surgery.

A small memorial service was held in Houston Sunday, and tens of thousands are expected to converge on the official state funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday.

A towering literary figure for over four decades, the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish is well known and loved across the Arab world by people from all walks of life.

Darwish was born on March 13, 1942, in the village of Birwe in Palestine. When he was six years old, the Israeli army occupied and then destroyed Birwe and over 400 other Palestinian villages. His family fled to Lebanon, then returned illegally to a nearby village of Dayr-al-Asad.

Darwish and his family became internal refugees living under Israeli military rule, legally classified as “present-absent aliens.” By the time Darwish left the country in 1970, he had been imprisoned several times for reciting his poetry and traveling from village to village without a permit. He lived in exile until 1996, when he was allowed to return to visit his mother.

Mahmoud Darwish was politically active for much of his life, has often been called a poet of resistance. He was a member of the Israeli Communist Party in the ’60s, then joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO. He was a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee until he resigned in 1993 over the Oslo Peace Accords.

Darwish has written over thirty volumes of poetry and prose and has been translated into thirty-five languages. He published his first book of poetry, Wingless Birds, at the age of nineteen. He won a number of awards during his life, including the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983 and the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom in 2001.

Amy Goodman: I’m joined now by two poets who have translated some of Mahmoud Darwish’s work, and we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sinan Antoon is with us in our firehouse studio in New York, an Iraqi poet, novelist, translator, and filmmaker, and a professor at New York University, where he teaches Arabic literature. His last collection of poetry was published in English as Baghdad Blues.

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