The American poet Naomi Shihab Nye has a memorable prose poem in her new collection, “You & Yours” (Boa Editions, 84 pages, $22.95), which ends with the speaker resisting the urge to tell an exuberant little girl on a cross-country flight that they’re both Arabs, for fear that the child, in her enthusiasm, will blurt it out for everyone aboard to hear. Nye is an American of Palestinian roots who is partial to poems about / little ruminations, explosions of minor joy, but a poet who, at the same time, cannot forget the ongoing anguish of the besieged Palestinian refugee camps, or the horrors visited upon Iraq and Afghanistan (and now, once again, I’m sure she would be quick to add, Lebanon). For all her loving kindness and good will, she is agonizingly conscious of the fact that humanity has gone nowhere / in a million years.
In “Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone” (Archipelago Books, translated by Jeffrey Sacks, bilingual, 180 pages, $18), the internationally acclaimed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish — a hero of the anti-occupation resistance who is often considered the voice of the Palestinian people — tells the story of the loss of his home and homeland. When the poet tells us that his father, making his way to Lebanon with his family, felt for his key the way he would feel for / his limbs and was reassured, Darwish is reciting the tragic story of 700,000 fellow Palestinians. Many of them still wear about their necks or carry in their pockets the key to the family home from which they were expelled in 1948, an event that remains the seminal wound of the Palestinian experience.
“Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone” is not a selection drawn from various works, but a translation of one of Darwish’s most important collections. Unfortunately, the new English-language version contains neither introduction nor notes, a significant omission for an American readership conversant only with garbled and obfuscating myths about Palestinian history.
Another just-published translation of Darwish’s poetry, “The Butterfly’s Burden” (Copper Canyon Press, translated by Fady Joudah, bilingual. 327 pages, $20), brings into English the complete texts of three even more recent collections of his poetry, almost 300 pages of work never before translated: a book of love meditations, a book inspired by the second Intifada and a volume of personal short lyrics. Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American doctor, has produced an admirable translation of Darwish’s evocative, highly metaphorical lyricism and has supplied an extremely useful introduction and notes. Thanks to both Archipelago and Copper Canyon, we now have much of this major world figure’s poetry available in English translation.