Published for the first time in English, this volume brings together a selection of poems by Najwan Darwish, from his earliest work written in the late 1990s to his most recent in 2013. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond as a singular expression of the Palestinian struggle, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humor and the harsh reality of death. Here, the psychological, social, and political are collapsed into dense coils of rhythm and image. Darwish’s obsessive rewritings of the life of Christ are particularly incisive and reveal the poet’s conflicted relationship with Jerusalem—a city that appears repeatedly as both beloved and crucifier.
Although they are strongly rooted in Darwish’s homeland, these poems repeatedly link the Palestinian cause to more global visions of equality and justice, and to historical moments from across the Arab world and beyond. This ability to transcend national boundaries—and to assimilate a vast array of literary and religious traditions—has made Darwish one of the very few Palestinian poets to garner a large readership outside his homeland.
While so many poets within Palestine are trying to follow in the footsteps of Mahmoud Darwish—whose influence on Palestinian poetry was enormous from the 1960s to his death in 2008—Najwan Darwish is widely respected for his refusal to take on the mantle of his famous namesake (to whom he bears no relation). This refusal is clearest in his own poetic rebuttal to Mahmoud Darwish’s best-known poem, “Identity Card”—a radical rewriting that espouses a more inclusive view of what it means to be both Arab and Palestinian.
Najwan Darwish’s poems, brilliantly translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, are clever and daring. An exhilarating collection from one of the most exciting young voices in the Arab world.
Constrained by neither temporality nor place, his poetry is a medium of defiance, employing a sharp wit to illuminate absurdities and injustices. While his poetry is at times political, it embodies a universal message, reminiscent of the great mystical poets like Rumi. From Jerusalem where he works and lives, N. Darwish has become a distinguished voice for his nation’s struggle. His poetry renders the particularity of the Palestinian experience in luminous imagery and piercing observations, but his imagination and interests are not limited by borders.
—Emily Dische-Becker, Poetry International
Najwan Darwish’s poetry is different: it seems to have overcome the false dichotomy between poetry and social and political reality. What struck me first about reading these poems is his capacity to do justice to both poetry (to image, to condensed form) while also doing justice to its surrounding reality. This is a significant challenge: how to mediate between two intense forms without ruining either.
—Bashir Abu-Manneh, Barnard College