By Katherine Vanessa Whiteley
Poetry in a stark white room hung with photographs and artwork of Palestine. No heating this cold December night at Stokes Croft’s Hamilton House, a site representing a groundroots movement of positive social change. This first poetry reading in Bristol of “Poetry for Palestine,” part of Bristol’s first Palestinian Film Festival, explored the theme of Journeys.
Even the percussion workshop upstairs couldn’t compete with the poets on this night.
Poet Julie-ann Rowell described the evening as: a mixture of eloquent appraisal of the situation in Palestine and the alienation, heartache brought about by migration whether forced or not. How journeys change us, bring awareness and understanding of how others live, and our part in the world.
Sue Boyle, poet, and organiser of Bath Poetry Cafe: This was a wonderful evening of raw and passionate poetry. Iqbal and Yazan read and spoke from the heart of their experience of the tragedy and suffering of the Palestinian people and the audience was gripped by the power and emotion of what they had to say.
The truth and pain of Iqbal Tamimi’s poems on Palestine were so poignant people were moved to tears. The poet John Terry said: Her poems were amazingly powerful and one can only imagine the impact they must have in the original Arabic. It is exceptional poetry which has the ability to survive translation.
Iqbal read six poems titled Humiliation, Separation, Repatriation, Desperation, Dedication and Occupation that work together to give the listener a vivid portrayal of what it is to be a Palestinian refugee. Occupation describes a homeland
Where the houses miss their doors
And crouch at borders
Waiting for their orphaned keys.
Julie-ann’s wonderful reading focused on Ireland. One of her poems Union is a remembrance of the brief exchange gaze and smiles between strangers at different times in different parts of the world and she asks
Indian girl, Belfast girl, I wonder
if I am part of your imagination,
do you return to my face in the rest
of evening, in reverberations of home,
the cleaning of dishes, the writing of a lyric.
Sue Boyle’s yet unpublished prose poem The Ark is a powerful allegory on the concept of Chosenness that describes those on the ark pushing their nearest neighbours back into the water to drown because they have not been chosen by God.
You could not fault its construction. Gopher and cedar wood, caulked and pinned, every curve perfect to its purpose, every joint sharp as a shark’s tooth in its long jaw. Much later, people would compare the ark with a zeppelin, monstrous and menacing, drifting across the apparent sky of the drowned world, turning its blind face to the dreadful sea.
John Terry began the evening with the claim to have the shortest journey of all the poets there. His poem The death of Vincent de Groof describes how the wings of a flying machine collapsed in 1874 and the Belgian inventor plunged to his death in the streets of Chelsea.
say he fell five hundred feet, others,
merely the height of a church spire.
Unimportant. The drop would have killed
anyone. Even in Chelsea.
Yazan Abu Jbara read Canadian-Palestinian Rafeef Ziadah's ‘Savage, Terrorist’ whose repeat lines I am your Savage, your terrorist are as unforgettable as the olive oil Ziadah tells us her mother rubbed in my hair and in my skin until the smell of Palestine seeped through to my veins.
The evening was a verbal and emotional rollercoaster, said poet Alana Farrell. As a member of the audience I boarded poems that took me into the dark, with words that lit the way. The poets, especially Iqbal, read with a rare seriousness and passion.