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A Tribute to Mahmoud Darwish's Lyric Epic

A lecture by Dr. Fady Joudah

It is necessary to read Darwish’s transformation of the long poem: the shift in diction from a gnomic and highly metaphoric drive to a stroll of mixed and conversational speech; the paradox between private and public, presence and absence; the bond between the individual and the earth, place, and nature; the illumination of the contemporary Sufi aesthetic method as the essence of poetic knowledge, on the interface of reason and the sensory, imagination and the real, the real and its vanishing where the “I” is interchangeable with (and not split from) its other; and his affair with dialogue, and theatre (tragic, absurd, or otherwise) to produce a lyric epic sui generis. If I Were Another is a tribute to Darwish’s lyric epic, and to the essence of his “late style,” the culmination of an entire life in dialogue that merges the self with its stranger, its other, in continuous renewal within the widening periphery of human grace. The two collections of long poems that begin this book, I See What I Want (1990) and Eleven Planets (1992), mark the completion of Darwish’s middle period. In them he wove a “space for the jasmine” and (super) imposed it on the oppressive exclusivity of historical and antinomian narrative. In 1990, between the personal and the collective, “Birth [was] a riddle,” but in 1996 birth became “a cloud in [Darwish’s] hand.” And by Mural’s end (2000) there was “no cloud in [his] hand / and no eleven planets on [his] temple.” Instead there was the vowel in his name, the letter Wāw, “loyal to birth wherever possible.” By 2005, Darwish would return, through the medium or vision of almond blossoms, the flower of his birth in March, to revisit the memory and meaning of place, and the “I” in place, through several other selves, in Exile, his last collected long poem. Dialectic, lyric, and drama and opened up a new space for time in his poetry; a “lateness” infused with age and survival, while it does not “go gentle into that good night.”

Lecture was part of the one-day conference held on November 5, 2009.

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