Courage In The Impossible: Gaza’s Poets Speak

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Poets from every culture and continent were honored earlier this spring on World Poetry Day. Now as April unfolds, Americans enjoy National Poetry Month. It is a time to celebrate poets, but it is also a time to raise your voice. For the poets of Gaza, the need to be heard has never been greater. Over the past six months, tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed. For many, poetry has provided an escape. 18-year-old poet Nadine Murtaja took up the pen to mourn her homeland: “But here where I live, and breathe, life wears its black dress constantly.” Other young poets of Gaza also cling to the balm of the written word. 22-year-old Maha Jaraba shared: “The only thing that relieves us from the troubles of war is poetry.” 

Poetry as Solace in Gaza

Murtaja and Jaraba are both members of the Gaza Poets Society, a spoken word poetry group formed in 2018 by Mohammed Moussa. Moussa saw a need for poets in his homeland to gather because “life here is poetry blown into pieces and scattered all over the place.” Because poetry is not only a form of escape, it is a form of resistance. In fact, renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote that “every beautiful poem is an act of resistance.” Unfortunately, many poets have been targeted by occupation forces for speaking up and speaking out. 

On November 20th, Mosab Abu Toha was arrested when fleeing Northern Gaza and heading south toward the Rafah crossing. Mosab Abu Toha is the founder of Gaza’s Edward Said library and the award-winning author of Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza. While Toha was eventually released, the harrowing experience stirred feelings that could only be expressed through poetry. As Toha wrote: “A poem is not just words placed on a line. It’s a cloth. Mahmoud Darwish wanted to build his home, his exile, from all the words in the world. I weave my poems with my veins. I want to build a poem like a solid home, but hopefully not with my bones.” When Toha finally reached Egypt, he arrived with only one book in hand: a weathered copy of his poetry collection.

“I Grant You Refuge” by Palestinian poet, novelist, and teacher, Hiba Abu Nada, was written on October 10th and is among the last pieces she composed before being martyred by an Israeli airstrike on October 20th. Read the full text with translation by Huda Fakhreddine here.

Palestinians Speak, The World Listens

To the poets of Gaza: The world is listening. As of December 2023, #palestinianpoetry had more than 206,500 views on TikTok and #mahmouddarwishpoetry had 17.8 million views. At the Boston Coalition for Palestine on December 17th, demonstrators calling for a permanent ceasefire decorated white kites adorned with lines by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian poet killed by an Israeli airstrike. His lasting plea? “If I must die/ you must live/ to tell my story”. And indeed, the story lives on. From online poetry forums to in-person events and readings, thousands of dollars have been raised by the power of the written word. In London, Out-Spoken Press organized a virtual event called “Poets for Palestine,” which ended up raising nearly £25,000 for Medical Aid for Palestinians. 

In Arabic, the word for poetry is شعر (shi3r), which also means “to feel.” As the violence in Gaza continues and hearts are rubbed raw, it is no surprise that the Gaza Poets Society continues to pour forth. With nearly 27,000 followers on Instagram, the message is clear: This broken world needs poetry.

Want to experience the beauty of Arabic poetry or discover new Palestinian voices? Book a session with one of NaTakallam’s native language tutors! Choose from Modern Standard Arabic and local dialects: Levantine (spoken in and taught by language partners from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria), Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian, Iraqi and Yemeni. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Reid Green is a content writing intern with NaTakallam. She has spent nearly two decades in education as an English teacher. In her spare time, Emily enjoys reading, singing and studying languages. 

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