The Letters – Al-Rasa’il. Words as a Connecting Bridge

Yonatan Mendel | 05.04.2021 | Photo: Amer Shomali, Anarbati

“What is the point of an exchange of letters between two poets?” wondered Mahmoud Darwish in his first letter.

For two years the two Palestinian poets, Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim, exchanged letters, which became cornerstones of modern Arabic literature and poetics. They were collected in the book Al-Rasa’il – The Letters, translated into Hebrew by Dr. Hannah Amit-Kochavi. Eyad Barghuthy edited the translation, Dr. Tami Israeli was the poetry editor, and Dr. Raef Zreik added an epilogue.

A book launch was broadcast live in March with Eyad Barghuthy, Prof. Yehouda Shenhav-Shahrabani, Watan al-Qasim, Dr. Hannah Amit-Kochavi, Dr. Raef Zreik, and poet Roni Somek. After opening remarks by Prof. Yehouda Shenhav-Shahrabani and Eyad Barghuthy, Watan al-Qasim, son of the poet Samih al-Qasim, welcomed the publication of the book. Watan addressed the commemoration enterprise of his father Samih, and his childhood memories of the close relationship between the two poets.

His comments were followed by three speakers, who all had personal relationships with the poets-authors. Some of them also read segments from the book in Arabic and Hebrew. Dr. Raef Zreik, who wrote the epilogue of the book, emphasized its importance and the enthusiastic response to the letters when they were initially published in the Arabic press. Dr. Amit-Kochavi recalled her acquaintance in Haifa with both poets, and stressed that she had translated the book with the intent of opening the eyes of the Jews in Israel to the very existence of the Palestinians and to their complicated situation. She said that of the entire rich body of her translations, this book was the most important. The last speaker was Roni Somek, who talked about his friendship with al-Qasim and compared some of the poems in the book's appendix, translated by Idan Barir, Dr. Nabil Tannus, and Dr. Hannah Amit-Kochavi, with the poems of other Arab poets.

An excerpt from "A Migration Poem for Mahmood Darwish", October 27, 1982, Samih al-Qasim, read in Arabic on the eve of the launch:

Beirut has two faces: one for Haifa,
And we are friends, in prison and exile.
We crossed one land after another,
And here we are, returning in the vertigo stutter.

All Faces but Mine: The Poetry of Samih Al-Qasim
Translated from the Arabic by Abdulwahid Lu'lu'a
Syracuse University Press, 2015, p. 161

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For further information about the Maktoob series, see here. We also recommend watching lectures about the Arab society and the Middle East.


Photography: Amer Shomali, Anarbati

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