by Ibrahim Nasrallah,
translated by Omnia Amin and Rick London,
Willimantic, CT, Curbstone Press, 2009,
120 pages, paper, $14.95,
ISBN: 978 -1- 93189652 -1
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What little I know of Middle Eastern poetry comes by way of reading translations of Rumi, Hafiz, and Yehuda Amichai, but from the first glance I was drawn into the poems of Ibrahim Nisrallah. “Windows are a first step into the world, / a song on a spacious cloud, / a departure, a rose . . . (3). Suddenly I am in the heart of this poet and those of all the makers with words who reach out and out to understand who they are within.
With a preface by Dr. Omnia Amin that quietly and succinctly gives us a sound base for approaching Nasrallah as a poet and a context for understanding the undercurrent of sorrow that seeps through the poems of a Palestinian man, we step to the window with him. In America it has become common to speak of the poetry of exile as it relates to the distance between our materialistic culture and the country of maker – poets whose voices often go unheard. Through Nisrallah’s poems we understand more clearly what it is to lose home, family, history, and still to yearn for all those things. His poems become a hymn to that desire.
Think for a moment of your first thoughts, stepping into the daylight from your porch. Here is the opening of Ibrahim’s poem, “A Beautiful Morning:”
A beautiful morning
is one that passes and I am not killed.
A city street following the sun at sunset
is obstructed by a roadblock and soldiers.
Another street runs after her
and never returns.
A beautiful morning . . . (44-46).
For all the tension and fear that comes with reading some of these poems, I cannot help but be drawn into the stories of a life that strives to find love and beauty even hanging from the barbed wire. The language is simple, concrete, and purposeful as though taking the step of writing down one more word gives impetus to the hope that he will write another.
This collection was selected by the poet from among a number of his works. Omnia Amin reminds us that his short poems are similar to Japanese Haiku “as they work on awakening philosophical insight by means of an everyday event or insight.” Nisrallah writes a series of poems on chairs:
Our ribs break loose like the chairs
we watch the sea at sunset
Isolation embitters the day
A bold grief lies behind our smile
Being with people implies escape
Our legs sink into the dust like chairs
left in a garden after war (62).
This series of poems and others based in concrete things like chairs, hours, tents, and playgrounds anchor themselves in the everyday while evoking deep sorrow or other more complex emotions. It is as though the poet learns himself through the eyes of things. Part of the joy of finding a poet who is new to one’s experience is the way his or her voice reminds of other poets from around the world. Reading Nisrallah, I thought of Francis Ponge and his oranges, Neruda and his Book of Questions, Bachelard’s attics and cellars. Each of these strives to understand who they are in the world while examining the tiniest details of the everyday and using them as the eyepiece of a telescope to bring the work of their hearts into clearer focus.
The medium length poems in this book often speak to his experience as a Palestinian man trying to find a way to bring that life into the world in a way that honors it while exposing those of us who have never known hunger or exile a clearer picture of the experience. The poet himself says, “Writing is our best
opportunity to understand ourselves clearly; therefore, the secret
of writing resides in the fact that we become whole in the act of writing, unlike any other moment in life” (xv).
Ibrahim Nisrallah does not confine himself to writing poetry, but also writes on literature and the arts. He has written ten novels as well as being a photographer and painter. It is easy to find the visual references in his work as well as the communion he holds with human beings everywhere, the need for home family, love, and the freedom to do our work, whatever that is.
The Rain Inside is a wonderful introduction to English – speaking poets of the work of a gifted and sensitive poet. His translators have brought us his work in a caring and evocative way. Understand that this is not a book for the faint of heart, but rather a chance for each of us to explore who we are and how we will live together.
— Michael Macklin