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Mahmoud Darwish and the disproportion

I am not the best person to commemorate the passing of Mahmoud Darwish, the national poet of Palestine. Any poetry I have written is basically comedic, whether I intend it that way or not. My arabic is not good enough for me to appreciate him in the original, and even of his english translations I only have read or heard a handful of poems. But I do have some sense of what he means and has meant to Palestinians and to poetry.

One of the things that burns me is that against the violence of starvation and bombs and bullets and torture and surveillance, the destruction of ecosystems and the destabilization of the atmosphere, all I can think of to usefully do right now involves... talk or writing, in some or other venue, or making it possible or easier for others to do so. All talk, as the cliche goes. If I was a poet like Darwish I would have a more evocative name for it, but as it is I call it "the disproportion".

It is people like him who remind me that not all words are useless.

Whenever I start to think they are, I think of a line from the film V for Vendetta (there's another disproportion, I realize, that I think of a Hollywood film when I'm trying to commemorate a true poet. It speaks to what my mind has been filled with and what it has not been, perhaps. A better commemoration would quote from Darwish himself, and there will be better commemorations I am sure). V has taken over the TV station and is calling people to demonstrate against the dictatorship a year hence. He says:

"There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the annunciation of truth."

Because words will always retain their power, so will Darwish. In a way he might be envied for that, because so many Palestinians who fought and died trying to defend their lives and their people are anonymous in death, whereas Darwish with his power of words is immortal. But they can share in that immortality, because his words were not for himself, but for them. And also for those of us who are alive... for those who will listen.

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