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Sewing clouds together

»No one listens to a poet who talks politics« said the award-winning Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. He nevertheless spoke of both poetry and politics during his Copenhagen visit

‘The bridge’ is a trite metaphor. But sometimes it is the most fitting, so Mourid Barghouti is excused.

When the Palestinian poet and author in 1996 gazes across the River Jordan and into the country he left 30 years earlier, it is the Al-Karameh Bridge he needs the soldiers’ permission to cross. A bridge that has, in the most literal sense, separated him from the past, friends and family he has longed for ever since he left Palestine during the Six Day War of 1967.

‘The Bridge‘ is for that reason the title of the introductory chapter of Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah, a lyrical autobiographical book that has just been translated into Danish, and the reason why the 65-year-old author was in Copenhagen.

No one listens to a poet

Barghouti is also hoping his book can help build a bridge between cultures, he explains.

The Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) at The University of Copenhagen (U of C) had invited Mourid Barghouti to Copenhagen, but the University Post missed Barghouti Thursday at ToRS, so we chose instead to see him at the writers association PEN’s event Friday 23 October.

Mourid Barghouti is a mild, smiling man. The skin on his 65-year-old face has thick furrows, adding character to his laughs and shakes of head.

And he is popular – the room is full of fans and newcomers, Arabs and Danes, teenagers, students and the elderly. They are faced with an author who, although angry and consistent in his criticism of Israel and international society, does not in actual fact want to talk about politics.

»No one wants to listen to a poet who talks politics anyway« as he puts it.

Not criminals, not victims

I Saw Ramallah is Barghouti’s first non-poetic work, but according to himself it is neither about global politics, nor the Israeli government’s actions, nor the idiocy or uselessness of politicians.

»My book portrays a single person and his family. You see the conflict translated to a single human face – to 24 hours of human experience,« he explains

»In the media you only see Palestinians with blood on their hands or back. As criminals or victims. This book shows the Palestinians’ state of mind«.

Politics are coffee cups

And then Barghouti cannot help but speak politics. Of course. Why should he? A Palestinian cannot cast off the politics that saturate everything, or as Barghouti puts it:

»Politics is the number of coffee cups on the breakfast table«.

Politics is also a word, and a special one in the Middle East. Whether it is the Israeli’s ‘West Bank’ or the Palestinian’s ‘East Palestine’ which is the preferred term for the same area, is a question of power.

»Some believe Mahmoud Abbas to be a traitor. He is not. He is useless, and that’s even worse – he makes mistakes all the time «, he rages against the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

All battles are symbolic

Politics and power are symbolic, says Mourid Barghouti. When he visits an elderly woman in his village and sees that her old fig tree is gone and the ground cemented, another chunk of Palestine is dead at Israel’s feet.

»All battles are dependent on symbols,« Barghouti reads from his book. »Jerusalem is now the Jerusalem of the religions. The world is concerned about the ‘condition’ of Jerusalem, the idea of Jerusalem and its myths. But our lives in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem of our lives, do not concern the world.«

»The Jerusalem of Heaven will live forever. Our life in Jerusalem is threatened with extinction.«

The lost time is the worst

I Saw Ramallah describes a man caught in an emotional limbo between relief at having returned home, and the sorrow of loss. Between expectations for the future and the begrudging of the time lost, spent in exile.

»Attempting to get the time I spent outside Palestine back, is like trying to sew two clouds together with needle and thread,« he says.

The poet after the peace

»Palestinian poets have always been very aware of meeting a certain feeling among the people halfway: But without losing the aesthetics in favour of a clenched fist and the hard political talk. It’s tiring but we try.«

And by making the aesthetics safe, the poets avoid cornering themselves rhetorically, as their colleagues in the USSR had done when the union suddenly collapsed.

In this way Barghouti answers a member of the audience’s question: When peace breaks out, what will the poets write about?