samihI first came across Samih al-Qasim’s poetry in Emile Habiby’s The Pessoptimist, which begins with the following poem from The Quran of Death and Jasmine:

You men!
You women!
You sheiks and rabbis and cardinals!
And, you, nurses and textile workers!
You have waited so long
And the postman has not knocked on your door
Bringing you the letters you desire

You men!
You women!
Do not wait. Do not wait!
Take off your sleeping clothes
And write to yourselves
The letters you desire

This call to action, the refusal of nostalgic passivity, is what I love most about Samih Qasim’s poetry, even (sacrilegiously!) at times preferring it to some of Darwish more lachrymose verse, although I love both. Qasim is less familiar to many than Darwish however, as this review of his book Sadder than Water points out: “Although he is one of the best Palestinian poets living in Israel, Samih al-Qasim (b. 1939) is hardly known in English.”

Also the clips I found of Qasim on youtube where not up to the standard of Darwish clips, so I thought I’d collect a few of the very best ones here.

Here he comments on an early poem, This Cell of Mine in an interview with Al Jazeera, where he describes it as coming out of a sense that the homeland had turned into a prison. But he comments also on his sense of hope, because of a conviction that his cause is one of justice.

Through the eyehole of this little cell of mine
I can see the trees all smiling at me,
The rooftops crowded with my family,
The windows breaking into tears for me
And prayers for me.
Through the eyehole of this little cell of mine
I see your bigger cell just fine.
من كوّة زنزانتي الصغرى
ابصُرُ اشجاراً تبْسمُ لي
وسطوحاً يملأها اهلي
ونوافذ تبكي وتُصلّي
من اجلي
من كوةِ زنزانتي الصغرى

In the same interview with Al Jazeera, he talks about his poetry on Baghdad:

Here is a good interview with the poet from Al-Sharqiya TV, which covers Iraq:

As always, the reading of the poem is almost as important as the words, and one of the most charged readings is the poem Ana Mutasif (I’m Sorry).

Samih Qasim, Ahmad Dahbour and Rula Sarhan reading their poetry in Ramallah, part of the festival for Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture. Qasim is the first to read:

His words have also been set to music brilliantly by Marcel Khalife.

5 thoughts on “This Cell of Mine

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