Mahmoud Darwish
(Palestine, 1941–2008)   
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Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish has published over two dozen collections of poetry as well as several prose works. He is both a popular and a controversial voice in Palestinian poetry. His early material was generally in a classical Arabic form, while in the 1970s he adopted free verse and moved into a more personal style. His country, and its politics, have always been major themes in Darwish’s poetry. When reviewing his recent collection The Butterfly’s Burden, Fiona Simpson suggested that “the extraordinary plasticity of Darwish’s imagery allows him to create a continual interplay between the figures of home and beloved, presence and absence”. 

This sense of presence and absence is tied to his personal relationship with Israel. Born in Galilee, Darwish fled the country after 1948 only to return a few years later. He left the country for several decades in the early 1970s, having had his Israeli citizenship revoked. He edited various magazines throughout his career, and was labelled a ´resistance poet´ for some of his more provocative writing. A number of his pieces have been set to music, or even film, and he was closely involved with both the Rakah (Israel’s socialist party) and later the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In fact, he even wrote a manifesto intended as a form of independence declaration for the PLO, although he resigned after the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Widely recognised as a major figure in Palestinian poetry, Darwish has received numerous international accolades. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983, and the Lannan Foundation awarded him the Lannan cultural Freedom Prize in 2001. Three years later he was the principal laureate of the Prince Claus Fund. In 1993 he was given the medal of a  Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres in France.

Mahmoud Darwish visited the Poetry International Festival in both 1972 and 1986. In the righthand column you can listen to recordings of his poetry made on this occasion. Darwish passed away in 2008.

© Poetry International

Selected Bibliography

State of Siege, Syracuse University Press, 2010
Absent Presence,  Hesperus Press, 2010
A River Dies of Thirst, Archipelago Books, New York, 2009

The Butterfly’s Burden, Copper Canyon Press, Washington, 2007
Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? Archipelago Books, New York, 2006
Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems,  University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2003
The Adam of Two Edens, Syracuse University Press, 2001
Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982, University of California Press, Los Angeles 1995
Sand, and Other Poems, KPI, 1986


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