It’s here! And it’s beautiful: bursting with sharp and tender poems, and well and truly launched at a sell-out event on Thursday Nov 16th at P21 Gallery in London, a contemporary arts centre dedicated to the promotion of Arab culture. Thank you to the gallery for hosting us, to Smokestack Books publisher Andy Croft for training it down from Yorkshire for the gig, and most especially to poets Mustafa Abu Sneineh and Farid Bitar – who journeyed from New York City especially for the reading – and translators Katharine Halls and Waleed Al-Bazoon for their depth-charged readings from A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry. Thank you also to everyone who came to celebrate the book and make it such a gorgeous night, from my friends Rob, Keith and Lily, who gifted me a beautiful bouquet of roses, sunflowers and wild grasses, to the young lad, William, from Farid’s hostel, who came along out of curiosity and shook my hand firmly after the readings, thanking me for the enlightening evening. I’m also still relishing my memories of dandling Mustafa and Rebecca’s little Eskander on my knee, admiring Farid’s pop-up art exhibition of paintings, drawings and calligraphy, and welcoming so many friends, some of whom had supported the book through the crowdfunding campaign, which raised £240 each for the legal campaigns of poets Ashraf Fayadh (jailed in Saudi Arabia) and Dareen Tatour (jailed in Israel). Also unforgettable was hearing Andy Croft read British poetry the riot act, and listening to the panellists field heretical questions about classic meter in a pan-Arab context!
I’m glad too that I could honour an absent translator, the late Sarah Maguire, an award-winning poet in her own right and the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, who very sadly died on November 2nd, the day before the book was published. I read Sarah’s translation of ‘The Lost Button’ by Fatena Al Ghorra, plus the last lines of her poem ‘The Grass Church at Dilston Grove’, which seem to herald the anthology, as well as foreshadow our loss:
Everything the grass has asked of me
on this earth, I have done
except give myself
under its sky of moving roots.
(From The Pomegranates of Kandahar)
Sarah has made that ultimate voyage now, but in giving herself so passionately, in life, to the cause of poetry in translation she has left a vital legacy, cracking open the bastion of British poetry to plant the seeds of human empathy and understanding across geopolitical and linguistic borders. Always a great friend of Palestine, she died on a date of enormous significance to Palestinians, the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which the UK government so wrongfully promised to support the creation of Israel in lands already occupied by other people. As I go forward, as the editor of A Blade of Grass, to help challenge the ever-escalating results of that disastrous document, and make this a century of justice for Palestine, I humbly feel I am picking up her ink-stained baton.
This is just the beginning of the festivities for A Blade of Grass. I’ve already had interest in 2018 events from New York, Cairo, and Jerusalem, not to mention Brighton and Chichester. If you want to buy the book in the meantime, you can order it online direct from Smokestack Books, or at bookshops in the UK or North America – and, hurrah, the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem! xxx