on the biting wisdom of poets [two], mahmoud darwish

Mahmoud Darwish Absent Presence Hesperus CoverMine is a very short review in today’s Independent [in which you can also read Robert Fisk direct from al Tahrir Square, Cairo!] but then it’s a very short book and I couldn’t pretend that length diminished this version (in Mohammed Shaheen’s translation) of Darwish’s Absent Presence!

I’ve quoted Mahmoud Darwish’s own use of the word “baffling”, below. What is truly baffling is that in English there are almost as many translators as editions of his books. A lesser voice would have been neutered by this, but Darwish is a national writer on a par with any nation and simply deserves better.


Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.30.56

Absent Presence,

By Mahmoud Darwish

Lessons in life from the great divide

Reviewed by Guy Mannes-Abbott

Monday, 31 January 2011

Mahmoud Darwish was a giant of world literature.

This elegant edition of the last completed work before the Palestinian poet’s death in 2008 makes clear why. Absent Presence is a huge little book which defies conventional categorisation. It offers costly wisdoms Continue reading “on the biting wisdom of poets [two], mahmoud darwish”

on the biting wisdom of poets [one], mourid barghouti

What is happening, hopefully, in Egypt is truly momentous and it has been a long time coming, as MB says below; “When it happens, it will not have happened suddenly.” He is referring to a wider phenomenon across the Arab world, which is, I think, really the end [the real ending] of the post-Imperial age, the beginning of the beginning [the real beginning] of a new Arab autonomy and matching political culture. That is the prize. If Egypt completes its transformation, then it will be inevitable though not immediate and not in a single step. As such, it’s something that I’m only observing with respect and pleasure from just one ex-colonial capital!

A brief introductory quote from Tamim Barghouti’s related piece;

“Tunisia sent out the message that client regimes fall – that if we can drive the empires out, we will surely be able to drive out their vassals Continue reading “on the biting wisdom of poets [one], mourid barghouti”

on now, breaking down jason moran [america]




Jason Moran is new to me, or to be precise he is twelve days old, thanks entirely to AM [yo!]…

I feel like Patti Smith is said to about hearing something new; wondersomely happy. ‘Break Down‘ is a great way in, from a remarkable album called Artist in Residence [2006] and worth digging behind for more. For the moment I’ll only add that if, like me, you missed Ten, from 2010, then you should check out its compelling blend of forms and inspiring newness… [RFK In The Land Of Apartheid, to Crepescule with Nellie thru. The Subtle One and on.]

Else, all I’ll say now is Continue reading “on now, breaking down jason moran [america]”

on egypt, the price of a cab to the airport today

‘One of the chants in Cairo has been: “Gamal, tell your father that Egyptians hate you.”‘

“Christian or Muslim it’s not important, similar poverty similar concerns! Hosni Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting, the plane is waiting. Saudi Arabia is not far!” … A picture of an empty tear gas canister circulated, the zoom focusing in on ‘Made in USA’.’

Of course the state of Israel is confident that its quisling siege-partner will hold on to his throne with yet another display of force; about the only thing that Israel does or recognises. Reason enough, then!

M.I.A. once sang “What can I get for $10?” A cab to the airport perhaps? Go, go, go, go, go…

on gertrude [one], if i told him would he like it

Would he like it if I told him Gertrude Stein  1923
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

For me this is where Gertrude’s wording, word-images, word-drawing of things, objects [Tender Buttons] and then people [Portraits and Prayers] really began to work. Really explodes. I love all of it of course, but this sounds like/conjures its object to me. It’s object is Picasso and this is the notebook manuscript of that gorgeous portrait of him that made its author so excited.

The Bienecke Rare Book and Manuscript collection of Gertrude and Alice’s is stunning. Sometimes I want to go and live there, burn my passport, unscrew the door handles, sit, read, be –eventually write. Meanwhile, Continue reading “on gertrude [one], if i told him would he like it”

HAZARDS, writing back #34

Amherst, 1877.

Dear Emily,

I’ve been using Entourage for almost a year since Mail froze up and lost a chunk of one-offness. Even with news to announce jointly I haven’t considered grouping, nor even noticed the Reply All button until last week. So your; “a mutual plum is not a plum”, is a fruit from my own tree, sister. “I was too respectful to take the pulp and do not like the stone” belabours the metaphoricity of my location here. Again, these are my own words: “Send no union letters. The soul must go by Death alone, so, it must by life, if it is a soul.” Or, you write; “If a committee -no matter.” This was always true of all that does matter and makes for singularity in the valleys and on most peaks. It’s even more true today, despite or because of the ubiquity of those barren committees who live without your tangy bite. One to one, one on one, one plus one. One.

Yours, g.

Fruitstore 05.iv.10

حول حكايات غزة

On Narrating Gaza

By Guy Mannes-Abbott

[With huge thanks to a, b and m -at least]

حول‭ ‬حكايات‭ ‬غزة

غاي‭ ‬مان‭-‬أبوت

عندما‭ ‬يتعلق‭ ‬الأمر‭ ‬بالحصارات،‭ ‬فإنه‭ ‬لا‭ ‬بد‭ ‬من‭ ‬الدقة‭ ‬من‭ ‬أجل‭ ‬الج‭ ‬دال‭ ‬حول‭ ‬الأ‭ ‬سبقية‭. ‬يبدو

المحاصرون‭ ‬في‭ ‬المكان‭ ‬بأكمله،‭ ‬وفي‭ ‬الوقت‭ ‬بأكمله‭ ‬كذلك‭. ‬المحاصرون‭ ‬هم‭ ‬ذاتهم‭ ‬على‭ ‬الدوام؛‭ ‬حيوان

قابع‭ ‬في‭ ‬الوقت،‭ ‬وبمروره‭ ‬يأسر‭ ‬المكان،‭ ‬ويتحول‭ ‬المكان‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬وقت‭ ‬بحد‭ ‬ذاته‭. ‬الهواء‭ ‬خانق،‭ ‬والنهاية

جماعية‭ ‬على‭ ‬كل‭ ‬حال،‭ ‬لكنها‭ ‬لم‭ ‬تقع‭ ‬قيد‭ ‬التفصيل‭ ‬بعد،‭ ‬أنت‭ ‬وحدك‭ ‬في‭ ‬ذلك‭ ‬العمق‭ ‬السحيق‭. ‬ينتمي

الحصار‭ ‬العسكري‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬عصور‭ ‬سابقة،‭ ‬إلا‭ ‬أنه‭ ‬لا‭ ‬يزال‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬فجاجة‭ ‬لكي‭ ‬يبقى‭ ‬هناك،‭ ‬أي‭ ‬في‭ ‬غزة‭.‬

،‭ ‬غزة،‭ ‬حيث‭ ‬يقبع‭ ‬مليون‭ ‬ونصف‭ ‬شخص‭ ‬‭-‬معظمهم‭ ‬من‭ ‬اللاجئين‭- ‬تحت‭ ‬الحصار‭ ‬منذ‭ ‬حزيران‭ ‬۲۰۰۷

بسبب‭ ‬جرأتهم‭ ‬على‭ ‬تمني‭ ‬العيش‭ ‬في‭ ‬وقتهم‭ ‬وفي‭ ‬مكانهم‭. ‬فيما‭ ‬بدأ‭ ‬محاصروهم‭ ‬في‭ ‬۲۷‭ ‬كانون‭ ‬الأول

من‭ ‬العام‭ ‬۲۰۰۸‭ ‬،‭ ‬الاحتفال‭ ‬بمطلع‭ ‬العام‭ ‬الجديد‭ ‬مبكراً،‭ ‬منتشين‭ ‬بذروة‭ ‬الاحتفال‭ ‬بهدية‭ ‬من‭ ‬قذائف

الفسفور‭ ‬الأبيض،‭ ‬على‭ ‬مدارس‭ ‬الأطفال‭ ‬التي‭ ‬لجأ‭ ‬إليها‭ ‬الناجون‭. ‬على‭ ‬مرأى‭ ‬أعين‭ ‬عالم‭ ‬لم‭ ‬يرَ‭ ‬لذلك

.الأمر‭ ‬مثيلاً‭ ‬من‭ ‬قبل Continue reading “حول حكايات غزة”

on surface and underscoring, parastou forouhar @ leighton house review in bidoun

I have a short review of Parastou Forouhar’s recent exhibition at the Leighton House Museum, London in the new issue of Bidoun #23, Squares, whose contents are here. As ever; rush out and do yourself a favour! Or subscribe; you know you want to!

I haven’t seen the issue yet [19.01.11 Have now; looks good!], am curious to see how it’s been illustrated [see exhibition link above] and still finding my way with these short art reviews; the kind of exploration I remember from writing critically about books and with which I felt I made a break through in writing about a John Barth novel with similarly few words in late 1991 [and that evening/night helped a friend complete -well, did- a piece of work that quite quickly became art historical. Busy day! -and a small part of my next big writing project].

There is an art to writing short as well as writing to context that I’ve not mastered with visual art [much happier with essay length!] but I learnt something valuable from this attempt. I believe in doing it, most definitely, and was very gratified to be invited to write on PF or at all. I’ll try to explain myself. Continue reading “on surface and underscoring, parastou forouhar @ leighton house review in bidoun”

on radwa ashour’s spectres/atyaaf, in today’s independent

Radwa Ashour Spectres The Independent

Spectres (Atyaaf),

By Radwa Ashour

Trans Barbara Romaine

Pleased to see my very short review, shortened further to fit, of Spectres in today’s Independent: “Personal, Political and Painful” [UPDATE see below for full original review & an update from MW’s obituary for Radwa].

It ends;

Spectres combines invention, unofficial history and human abyss in an elliptical novel in which Ashour articulates an ethics rooted in Arabian and ancient Egyptian cultures. The result transforms a bleak constellation into a quietly stirring beacon. Spectres provides an irresistible companion to Barghouti’s memoir I Saw Ramallah, and a contrast to Elias Khoury’s more traditional Gate of the Sun. Spectres is a boldly original novel by an important writer whose exemplary work we need more of in English.”

I had a little more to say, but would only add now that the companionship with those two titles was predicated crucially on the words, “in translation”, thus referring to the disgracefully small pool of Arabic writing yet in English. As it stands it might be read as a weird and old-fashioned kind of valorisation, no? The word “demanding” has also gone from elsewhere, and again, I only mention it because though it’s indubitably great to see the novel celebrated in The Independent, it is the best of things; a demanding read in more ways than one.

My similarly tiny review of the Mahmoud Darwish’s rivetingly demanding Absent Presence (in the Mohammad Shaheen translation) will appear in due course… (UPDATE 2018: clean link here.)

Continue reading “on radwa ashour’s spectres/atyaaf, in today’s independent”

on ‘translated by’, the details…

Translated By

[CLICK image for details]

Curated by Charles Arsène Henry and Shumon Basar

Featuring Douglas Coupland, Rana Dasgupta, Julien Gracq, Hu Fang, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Guy Mannes Abbott, Sophia Al Maria, Hisham Matar, Adania Shibli and Neal Stephenson

*NB [UPDATE] The accompanying book will be published February 10th, details here and below; Continue reading “on ‘translated by’, the details…”