on nathalie handal’s poetry

nathalie handal sent me an email today telling me that she was recently on the news hour with jim lehrer on pbs. here is the clip of her interview:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

the beautiful poem nathalie reads in the above clip is called “blue hours” and here is the poem:

In the blue hour,

the negrita cries, I hide

not to deceive the darkness

or myself…

La negrita is not far

from where I stand

her eyebrows

her one hand…

I too am visible now, behind the tree

behind the night, behind the cry

and all I want to know

is her name

and ask her:

have you ever heard

your heart undressing,

seen a stray dog at midnight

and realize he understands this hour

better than you will understand any hour?

have you seen yourself in every woman

with your eyes or in women with eyes

more difficult than yours?

have you ever really heard your voice,

echoing in your nipples?

She offers me tea,

we end up drinking coffee,

trying to reach the bottom of the cup


now, my teeth are stained, my English

failing me, my Arabic fading

my Spanish starting to make sense…

we are in a finca now —

perhaps we are safe,

perhaps we desire nothing else,

but I can’t stop bowing in prayer

five times a day,

my country comes to me, tells me:

Compatriota — I will always find you

no matter what language you are speaking.

nathalie handal in aida refugee camp, beit lahem
nathalie handal in aida refugee camp, beit lahem

i saw nathalie in beit lahem, the city she comes form, only too briefly when she was here for the palestine festival of literature a couple of weeks ago (you can click this link to hear the poem she read on the final night, but she should have been much more prominently featured in the festival). her work is really beautiful and amazing, though, unfortunately, her books are in boxes in amman so i do not have them with me. but i do have a beautiful cd called “spell” of her reading some of her poems accompanied by will soliman’s music. here is one audio file from that cd:

nathalie handal & will soliman’s “listen, tonight”

there are more of nathalie poems featured on the “made in palestine” art exhibition website that you can read, but you should really buy her books, too. her most recent book is an amazing anthology entitled language of a new century: poetry from the middle east, asia & beyond. she is featured on the english pen world atlas blog, too.

and i must apologize to the people at the english pen world atlas blog because months ago they asked me to post some of the work they were doing to promote palestinian writers in gaza. they did an excellent job featuring some of these writers on this post here:

Over the next month, we’ll be publishing the work that she selected on the blog, as it arrives from Gaza. The first group of writers to arrive is diverse in age, background, experience, and style, but I find all of their voices compelling. On Monday, there will be a selection of short pieces by novelist, playwright and political scientist Atef Abu Saif, who lives and teaches in Gaza.

Following Abu Saif, whose stories will appear over three days, the blog will feature work from:

Soumaya Susi
Khaled Jum’a
Nasr Jamil Shaath
Fatena al-Gharra
Yousef Alqedra
Naser Rabah
Najah Awadallah

posted as it arrives from the Arabic translators have very graciously given time and support to this project, excited by its urgency and by discovering new work. Each writer presents translators with a different challenge and promise, and each will be translated differently.


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