’Poetry is like a surgical procedure: Brief, precise’

ISTANBUL-’I'm afraid of words,’ says Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, one of the guests at this year's International Istanbul Poetry Festival. The event, taking place at various locations, features poetry readings, including one by Barghouti tonight

As a Palestinian, "a product of certain geography and history," poet Mourid Barghouti says he has never been interviewed in a non-political context. But Barghouti says his poetry is not a commentary on the news, but rather a "self-reflection," with many elements comprising this "self."

"If something is ’outside’ of you, it cannot be found in your poetry, because what is inside of you should be also a part of the ’outside,’" he told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review before the official inauguration of the International Istanbul Poetry Festival.

The reader is invited to "take part in the poem," Barghouti said. "It’s like showing a view from a certain window. I’m trying to make eyes, not only ears, work while reading."

He said in his poetry he never tells his readers how to feel or suggests a certain reaction to his writing. "Imposing a certain feeling is not democratic," he said. "I’m only inviting [the reader] to see things from a different angle."

Barghouti says he pays more attention to readers than to critics because "there is no critical movement in the Arabic world, as it requires a free society and the power to express opinions."

The author of 12 books of poetry, Barghouti doesn’t seem concerned about his works being incorrectly interpreted. By using "physical" language in his poems, he leaves little room for deep analysis of the structure. This also makes the translation of his poetry less complicated, as many of the words he uses are very tangible and mean the same in many languages.

Between the lines
"To create pictures from daily life, I use simple words that everyone can understand," he said, adding that a new element in the relation between the pictures and the different context they are presented in Ğ what he calls "a constructive ambiguity." For Barghouti, it is easy to keep on writing, but difficult to stop.

"I’m afraid of words," he said, explaining that language can also be a trap and using it can become the easiest way to avoid the truth and falsifying one’s emotions. But, he said, the words used in poetry should be taken seriously. "Poetry is like a surgical procedure Ğ brief and precise," he said, contrasting its language with the current political language: "Most political words are polluted."

The best example of what Barghouti means by "polluted words" comes from his homeland, Palestine. "We can hear in the news that a visit of some politician to the Middle East brought ’a new push to the peace process,’ but not to the peace itself," he said, "Also killing civilians is being called ’collateral damage.’" The same applies to the post-Sept. 11 rhetoric of a "war against terrorism," which he says eventually became a war against any opposition. In the Palestinian context, the media "prefer to call Eastern Palestine ’the West Bank’ so the word ’Palestine’ can be erased," Barghouti said, adding that the presence of the issue in the media is not as important as the way it is depicted.

"Palestine is not a problematic nation, but a nation that faces problems," he said. "It is a work of art to restore the positive image of Palestine in the media." Asked about the attitude of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan toward Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos summit, Barghouti smiled and replied: "We [Palestinians] welcome justice expressed in any way."


Born in 1944, Mourid Barghouti is a world-renowned Palestinian poet and writer. His work has received numerous international awards and has been translated into several languages, including Turkish. Barghouti’s acclaimed book "I Saw Ramallah" was described by Edward Said as "one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have."


A poet sits in a coffee shop, writing:

the old lady thinks he is writing a letter to his mother,

the young woman thinks he is writing a letter to his girlfriend,

the child thinks he is drawing,

the businessman thinks he is considering a deal,

the tourist thinks he is writing a postcard,

the employee thinks he is calculating his debts,

the secret policeman walks slowly, toward him

Translated by Mourid Barghouti and Radwa Ashour from "Poems of the Pavement," 1980
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