I’m still not sure how to write about this book. This didn’t feel like anything I’ve read before at it definitely didn’t feel like a debut. It felt like someone that wrote so much poetry they had poetry in their breath, their laugh and, more than anywhere else, their pain.
Mohammed El-Kurd learned from his grandmother, Rifqa El-Kurd, that men on TV saying Be patient! For after patience comes relief! are lying. After patience comes the grave! And he isn’t patient. He isn’t waiting anymore for the US to stop funding and supporting the ethnic cleansing that is still taking place in occupied Palestine or for the UK to say something about the crimes against humanity that they are both directly and indirectly, by lack of action, supporting.
I don’t have time for paranoia. Won’t flip rocks or look for merit in the death threats. If they come for me, let them: I’ve made my amends. Would be content is my coffin. It is those stuffing sand in my mouth that worry me most saying there are softer ways to say this. Thing is I don’t want to be soft. Don’t want to humanize shit. Look at my limbs, look at this earth.“Kroger”
Born on the 15th of May, the day of the year which commemorates Nakba Day (Nakba literally means Catastrophe – the Catastrophe Palestinians have been living for over half a century), Mohammed El-Kurd voices the Palestinians’ struggle, resistance and fight for the revolution. As he explains in the afterword, he tries to do this differently from other media approaches: pro-Israel media paints Palestinians as terrorists that deserve what they are getting, while pro-Palestine media tends to paint the people they are defending as victims without agency, defenceless children, women, old or disabled people. But we don’t need to pity Palestinians, we need to see their power and support it, we need to understand their fight and join it. I’m sure El-Kurd’s poetry can be read in so many different ways by all the different people that hopefully will get to read it, but I am a white woman living in the UK and of course my reading experience was intrinsically linked to my allyship, even though the book is not actually saying anything about that. And I know that most of my readers are in a similar situation to mine (very rarely do my blog’s statistics show any activity anywhere else but in Europe or North America) so this is a warning and an invitation:
If you ask me where I’m from it’s not a one-word answer.
Be prepared seated, sober, geared up.
If hearing about a world other than yours
makes you uncomfortable,
drink the sea,
cut off your ears,
blow another bubble to bubble your bubble and the pretense.
Blow up another town of bodies in the name of fear.“This Is Why We Dance”
As I was saying, this is not really a book for allies. It’s also not NOT a book for allies. It’s a book for anyone who listens, but it’s mainly a book for the Palestinians that have started and endured the fight, for those that are still part of it and for the future Palestinians that might have to continue it or that maybe won’t, that will get to live in a world in which free Palestine is a reality, not a chant.
Bush sits beside me on the train.
Iraq veteran cites his fear of fireworks,
They think they’re the only ones
with PTSD. We’re literate
in peeling off our own skin to sleep.
We live like walking debris,
swallow snakes, swallow whole pharmacies,
wrap our spines around the fingers
of bank tellers, while Bush is at a Joanne’s
picking the perfect blue.“Bush”
On top of the portrayal of the Palestine fight, the poet also questions the stereotype associated with poetry: it always needs to come from a place of unhappiness, pain, poor mental health, or suicidal tendencies. He questions the extent to which poetry (and literature in general) is a tool, both in issues of social justice and in normal life, whatever that is. And it’s a very valid worry: as more and more people from marginalised groups enter the mainstream, where will we get? Will they get pacified, silenced, ignored, or finally acknowledged and listened to?
I have only one negative thought about this poetry collection: what if I’ve already read the best book of 2022 in the first week of January?