Poems and Paintings from the Depth of Exile
A Number of Poems and Paintings From the Depth of Exile: Najwa Kawar Farah Writes To Palestine With Love.
Rimal Publications in Nicosia recently published a book under the headline, To Palestine with Love, by the emigrant Palestinian writer Najwa Kawar Farah, who was born in Nazareth and lived in Haifa, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Beirut, and London, until she finally settled with her family in Toronto, Canada.
Kawar is one of the vanguards of culture and literature in Palestine whose novels and short stories emerged during the second half of the last century, and who acquired fame when her book, Passers-by was published. So far, she has published 11 books consisting of novels, short stories, and poetry. She is one of the first Palestinian and Arab creative authors, whose works were translated into foreign languages. In the 1990s, she published an English-language book in London under the title, A Continent Called Palestine. The book was well-received and the British media showed great interest in it; it has not yet been published in Arabic. It is noteworthy that the new book contained a poem with the same title "A Continent Called Palestine," which signifies the status that Palestine has in Najwa's life and mind. Palestine is not merely a small homeland, as it appears to be on the map; it is more like a continent whose members are scattered all over.
To Palestine with Love was published as part of the activities of the program "Jerusalem: Arab Culture Capital of 2009." The book provides incontrovertible evidence of the fact that time and exile have not worn out the determination of this creative writer. It is evident that she is still productive in diverse and varied ways. The book consists of a compilation of literary and artistic productions, and contains 25 poems and 30 paintings that teem with emotions, imagination, and beautiful colors.
One point that captures the reader's attention in the book is that it is dedicated to Palestine's children, consisting a poem published in the book "The Giant," in which Najwa says: "He loved his Palestine so much that he sacrificed his life for its sake." This is a clear indication of the huge sacrifices Palestine's children have offered, the children who have played a prominent role in the popular intifadas against the Israeli occupation, and who were not spared Israel's indiscriminate and fatal weapons, which robbed them of their lives and distorted the bodies of thousands of them.
In the introduction, Najwa says that she did not write the poems for publication, but that they were "an expression of internal emotions and impressions about what goes on in the depth of her soul." She wrote them during her free time in exile. She adds: "Nature and forests mean a lot to me. Although traffic and city lights are pale, the general image and the colors of each tree on the side of the road are implanted in my memory, exactly like the beauty of the peaks of desolate mountains and the endless horizons of prairies." Najwa screams: "The injustice that has befallen my homeland, Palestine, has made me very angry and frustrated. We were also very weak under the British Mandate, which stripped the citizens of their properties and rights. The tragedy of Palestine is a very personal one to me, exactly like it is to any Palestinian who is also a victim of this tragedy in some way or another." Najwa believes that Palestine is her paradise lost, and she often conjures up images of it in her exile. She added: "Although I do not consider myself ever being an artist, the illustrations in this book are an expression of a desire to recall and revive the images of my homeland, its horizons, natural hills, flowers, and trees, which infuse my life with vitality and spread warmth."
According to Najwa, the book published in English is a project by the whole family, for which Najwa's poetic and artistic productions constituted the backbone. Her granddaughter Jumanah Farah, who is a graphic designer, added her touches to the artistic design of the book, which consisted of an album of artistic paintings alongside the poems. Her son, Amin Farah, Jumanah's father, who lives in Britain, also helped translate the poems to English.
In the introduction, Kawar says: "The injustice that has befallen my homeland, Palestine, made me feel extremely angry and frustrated. The Palestinian tragedy is a personal issue for me, exactly as it is, in one form or another for any Palestinian who is its victim."
Kawar expresses her faith in the strength of words, lines, and colors to move the meek. As for the poems, they express the honesty of Kawar's experience, which has deep Arab roots stretching from Gaza, to Jerusalem, to Beirut, to Baghdad, all the way to Andalusia.
One of the highlights in the book is a poem with the title "Saffiyah," alongside which is published a picture depicting the story the poem tells. It is the story of a Palestinian woman from one of the refugee camps in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The woman in the story spent her days during the war Israel waged on Lebanon fully occupied with the preparation of food for her fighter husband, who was fortified in Beaufort Castle in South Lebanon, "defending families and repelling the foes." Saffiyah prepared the food and went out to deliver it to her husband, who in the meantime had heard the sound of machine-gun fire echoing through the valley and then an immense explosion. He then found Saffiyah, who had been martyred. Najwa uses words and colors to create the image of how this calamity had the smell of pure blood and fresh bread and jasmine all intermingling. The poem and picture are both an expression of a salute to the struggling Palestinian woman who stands side by side with the man in the battle for the homeland. In fact, on many occasions, she is at the frontline of the battle. Najwa concludes the poem "Saffiyah" with a verse that reminds us of the latest war on Gaza in December 2008, which says:
"The heavens light up, And yet it is not Christmas Eve; phosphorous
Red, orange baubles of death dangle, and slowly fall from the sky.
Farewell Saffiyah ...
It seems like Christmas Eve;
A Christmas Eve of gifts
To the children of Palestine."
Another noteworthy and gentle poem in the collection had the title "A Poet Who Loved the Poor." Although Najwa does not tell the reader who this poet is, the power of the poem makes the reader believe the poem is talking about all the deceased Palestinian nationalist poets, including Mahmud Darwish, Tawfiq Ziyad, Abi Salma, and others. They were all witnesses, as the poem says, of "crimes committed behind its curtain of black, in the camps where Palestinians live..., where blood and suffering reign." The poem wonders: "Will your fascination with love, beauty, and truth ever be exhausted?" Then Kawar says: "Oh my poet, anguish shall reveal your secret, as will your unanswered question still reverberate and echo." She wonders once again: "Will the rising generations stand up for the poor, as you in your short life have done, dying for the cause?" She concludes her poem by laying a wreath of flowers where the poet is resting, "under an oak tree rooted in a country that embraces the sun and caresses the moon."
In the poem "The Giant," Kawar describes the insatiable beast that never has enough of occupying the land and material wealth of the Palestinians, and that chases them to strip them of their memory. She screams in his face in defiance, and insists on clinging to her deep memory, declaring that she will never ever give it up.
Report by Ilyas Nasrallah from London for
9 February 2010