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Sunday, December 14, 2008

A life in writing: Mourid Barghouti

I learn from trees." The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti gestures around his mother's terraced garden in the hilly Jordanian capital, Amman. "Just as many fruits drop before they're ripe, when I write a poem I treat it with healthy cruelty, deleting images to take care of the right ones."

Barghouti has published 12 poetry books in Arabic since the early 1970s, as well as a 700-page Collected Works (1997). He has read in overflowing amphitheatres and in refugee camps. Midnight and Other Poems, his first major collection in English translation, is out this month from

Mourid Barghouti

Mourid Barghouti. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

It was his memoir, I Saw Ramallah, published by Bloomsbury in 2004 in a translation by Ahdaf Soueif, that first won him a readership in English. The late Edward Said saw it as "one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement". Reflecting on crossing the bridge from Jordan to his West Bank birthplace in 1996 after 30 years' exile - a visit under Israeli control that he refused to call a return - he described a condition of permanent uprootedness. A student in Cairo when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war broke out, he was prevented, like many others, from returning to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He was later exiled from Jordan for 20 years, Egypt for 18 years, and Lebanon for 15 years. Yet all writing, for him, is a displacement, a striving to escape from the "dominant used language" and the "chains of the tribe - its approval and taboos"...


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