Mourid Barghouti, born in a village near Ramallah in 1944, can rightly be referred to as a poet in exile. His first exile began when he was studying in Cairo in 1967 and the West Bank was closed to him. In 1976, he was banished from Egypt, and subsequently also from Lebanon and Jordan. In Egypt he left behind his wife, Radwar Ashour, who is well known as a writer and as a translator of poetry, and his five-month-old son Tamim, who was a guest at Poetry International in 2002.
It is only natural that his years of exile have had a marked impact on his poetry, and that this is audible in the poems he has written for refugees in camps. “You can't expect”, he says, “people with military boots on their necks, facing checkpoints and closures, to understand your sticking to your aesthetic rules. But my experience says you can read visionary poetry even in a refugee camp.”
Mourid Barghouti has an aversion to rhetoric and fine words. His collection Poems of the Pavement (1980) was written, according to him, “with a camera − visual, concrete, no abstract nouns”. His dislike of rhetoric is also visible in the collection Midnight and Other Poems (2008). Despite the despair that he articulates in these poems, this collection contains no propaganda and no polemics – only touching elegies, biting irony and gallows humour.
The following lines Barghouti wrote for myself as if he wanted once more to confirm his aversion to rhetoric.
truth needs no eloquence.
After the death of the horseman,
the homeward-bound horse
without saying anything.
In 1998 he revisited Ramallah with his son. Weerzien met Ramallah (Revisiting Ramallah; Bulaaq, 2002) is the Dutch title of the book in which he describes this visit. He now lives once more in Cairo.
(Quotations taken from The Guardian, 13 December 2008)
[Mourid Barghouti is to appear at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in June 2009. This text has been written for that occasion.]
Collected Works (1997); I Saw Ramallah (2003); A Small Sun (2003); Muntasaf al-Layl (2005); Medianoche (2006); Midnight and Other poems (2008).