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Mourid Barghouti was a prominent, celebrated, popular and well-loved Palestinian poet who lived most of his life, and died, in exile.
Mourid Barghouti was born on 8 July 1944 in the village of Deir Ghassaneh near Ramallah, four years before Israel came violently into existence. In an interview in 2019 in London, actually on his birthday 8 July 2019, with Middle East Eye journalist Mustafa Abu Sneineh Mourid recounted how during his life he had lived in 46 houses in three continents. I remember that Mourid phoned to speak with me that week – I was in hospital, recovering from an operation, so could not get to meet him while he was in London – a missed opportunity but wonderful to hear his voice. He told me he was living between Beirut and Amman and had left Egypt for good.
Mourid studied English LIterature in Cairo, and graduated from Cairo University in the fateful year of 1967 when the West Bank was overrun and occupied by Israeli troops, including Mourid's family home in Ramallah. There was no way he could return home. Ten years later, Egyptian president Sadat, getting ready to sign the Camp David Accords with Israel, threw Mourid out of Egypt altogether. It was 1994 before he was able to get back to Cairo and to his wife, the author and English professor Radwa Ashour (d. 2014) and their son Tamim. In 1996 he was able to visit Ramallah for the first time since his youth.
His collected works were published in Beirut in 1997, and in the same year his memoir of that first visit home after thirty years, Ra'aytu Ram Allah, won the 1997 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. A best-seller in the Arab world, I Saw Ramallah, translated into English by Ahdaf Soueif, was published by Bloomsbury in the UK in 2004 to critical acclaim.
Banipal published translations of his poems in Banipal 15/16, whose feature on Palestinian literature had to be made into a double issue stretching over Autumn/Winter 2002 and Spring 2003 as it grew and grew from the first idea of 60 pages, then to 80 and finally to 130 pages with works and articles featuring 54 Palestinian authors.
The seven poems of Mourid Barghouti that we published in that issue were translated by his life's companion and wife Radwa Ashour. A selection of them have been available to read on www.banipal.co.uk since then, but today we have updated it to include all seven. Click to read them.
Publication of those poems led to him being invited to read at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival later that year and the festival published his first chapbook, A Small Sun, translated by Mourid and Radwa Ashour (click to read the review by Stephen Watts).
He was a brilliant performer/reciter and such an eloquent speaker, and in 2004 Mourid was one of the four authors on the first Banipal Live tour (29 October-13 November 2004), where he also appeared at Poetry International in a special Arab poets' evening. . He also read at the Edinburgh Book Festival, with his last UK appearance being for A New Divan, an evening with George Szirtes, who was joint translator of Mourid's poem The Obedience Of Water, as part of the Shubbak Festival of Arab Culture.