A multi talented yet completely a poet, one would find in Nathalie Handal, a Palestinian poet of true universal experience and outlook! Nathalie has lived all over the globe: in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and has travelled extensively in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
She is a poet, playwright, writer, editor and literary researcher, and had a postgraduate egree in English and Drama at University of London, United Kingdom.
“I feel most at home when I am sitting in a Boston Yellow Cab. The ride from Logan airport to my apartment in that yellow cab brings me peace. It calms even the echoes of my breathing.
Every time I travel, I am comforted knowing I will be welcomed in a yellow cab. My addresses change, the concierge changes, the furniture changes, the bed sheets change, and even I change, but the yellow cabs are still yellow. I open those heavy doors, sit on those bouncing back seats, and feel a sense of relief. It’s like trying to convince myself that if one day I am lost, at least, I’ll find a piece of myself in one of these cabs. . . .
I was sitting in a yellow cab going to the airport to fly to Iowa. Isn’t there always a time for Iowa? Maybe not. Most people I spoke to asked me with their eyebrows rising, their foreheads wrinkling, "Why are you going there?" To begin with, I was invited by my friend Nastasia, who is Bulgarian and happened to be working in Iowa City. And why not Iowa?”
(Boston Yellow Cabs in An Ear to the Ground).
This is Nathalia Handal speaking, always from the heart sincerely and passionately. Her poetry is expression of an earnest heart.
“Nothing is even, even this line
I am writing, even this line I am waiting in,
waiting for permission to enter
the country, the house, the room.
Nothing is even, even now
that laws have been drawn and peace
is discussed on high tables,
and even if all was said to be even
I would not believe for even I know
that nothing is even - not the trees,
the flowers, not the mountains or the shadows…
our nature is not even so why even try to get even
instead let us find an even better place
and call it even.”
It is difficult to choose out of Nathalie’s work as to what and how much can be quoted because one feels the desire to use the whole piece of a particular work!
“A night without a blanket, a blanket
belonging to someone else, someone
else living in our homes.
All I want is the quietness of blame to leave,
the words from dying tongues to fall,
all I want is to see a row of olive trees,
a field of tulips, to forget
the maze of intestines, the dried corners
of a soldier’s mouth, all I want is for
the small black eyed child to stop
wondering when the fever will stop
the noise will stop,”
“I pull the collar of my light blue robe so hard
it tears, one side hanging as everyone’s lives hang here.
My fingers sink deep into my flesh,
I scratch myself, three lines scar my chests,
three faiths pound in my head and I wonder
if God is buried in the rubble. Every house is a prison,
every room a dog cage. Debke is no longer part of life,
only funerals are. Gaza is pregnant
with people and no one helps with the labor.
There are no streets, no hospitals, no schools,
no airport, no air to breathe.
And here I am in a room”
( Gaja City)
Palestine sings across the landscape of Nathalie’s works and as she travels across the globe and the State she carries Palestine wrapped in her heart and it sings the sad, tragic and yet eternally angry and optimistic.
“A cup of empty messages in a room of light,
light that blinds & blinded men lined up
the young are unable to die peacefully, I hear a man say.
All is gone: the messy hair of boys, their smile,
the pictures of ancestors, the stories of spirits,
the misty hour before sunrise
when the fig trees await the small hands of a child.
Now the candles have melted
and the bells of the church
no longer ring in Bethlehem.
A continued past of blood,
of jailed cities
Nathalie could not find the real Bethlehem where her grandfather came from and graffiti and stones replied her questions like a lot of other Palestinians.
“Secrets live in the space between our footsteps.
The words of my grandfather echoed in my dreams,
as the years kept his beads and town.
I saw Bethlehem, all in dust, an empty town
with a torn piece of newspaper lost in its narrow streets.
Where could everyone be? Graffiti and stones answered.
And where was the real Bethlehem--the one my grandfather came from?”
“Most exiles do not take enough with them—
some obtain new lands, new identities
others return to the empty corridors of their sleep
in a place they are certain they can always call home;
but most hold on to a sentence as if it were a coat
that will protect them from sun prisons,
a sentence that will grow
the way we grow, leave ourselves
like silence leaves a home
it can no longer love.”
This is how most Palestinian poets would most probably define a poem where Nathalie talks about poem:
dressed in olive branches and cracked happiness,
surrounded by seasons of sleepless nights staring
at the dusty walls of cities we have lost
that loses its address or that the address
loses, both, in either case awaiting
the return of those returning not today not ever
I ask you-why-
does the street have a name I can't pronounce
does our vocabulary invent us, our accents
resent us-must we come to a halt
and try saying our name without feeling strange
try praising our poets without feeling afraid
every wish can be found in his name
a guest made of stones
a thin line between our voice and heaven's throat?”
“What are we to do without the light of shadows
And the devil in the shadows we've repainted in our history
What are we to do without the screams of our streams
the martyrs and their grandfathers' photographs telling us
what we are to do-to stay and face the enemy before us,
inside of us, behind us, face the holiness of our motions
and the wholeness of our story
What are we to do, continue to listen
to the olive trees call our names
sing our songs
recite our holy books
death after death
between a stone and a bullet
caught in the yawn of history
one child after another
ready for heaven or hell
how many times will we have to count
our dead and our dead brothers”
Like Mahmoud Darwish, Nathalie contributes towards the creation of a word motherland, which Mahmoud called “home”. Is it a utopia? Is it an illusion? Is it a fantasy? There is no such thing called motherland unless we have created it, there can not be any homes but built flats or buildings of concrete, still or woods or leaves unless we have dreamt of it as a home, unless we have created it with the bricks of imagination, with the music of rhythm and imagery! The Palestinian poets whether they live in Israel or in burnt out cities of Gaja or Ramallah or other parts of the middle east or across the globe are connected in that home building-in the process of creating their word-motherland through their poetry. Nathalie Handal is well rooted herself in that process of feeling, living and witnessing and creating that pain, blood, bullets, corpses and processions of desperation and yet the eternal dream of that green olive trees swinging in the scarlet dusk.
“I come from there and remember,
I was born like everyone is borne, I have a mother
and a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends and a prison.
I have a wave that sea-gulls snatched away.
I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.
I have a moon past the peak of words.
I have the godsent food of birds and olive tree beyond the ken of time.
I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.
I come from there. I return the sky to its mother when for its mother the
sky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.
I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:
lives on in this land of created word motherland to be Palestine.”
( Mahmoud Darwish: I am from There)
Nathalie has an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature at Bennington College, Vermont, a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Communications at Simmons College, Boston.
Nathalie has been published in an array of publications including
The Literary Review, Orbis, the Brooklyn Review, Ambit, Stone Soup, Sable, Jusoor, Visions-International, Al Jadid, Al Karmel, Post-Gibran (Syracuse University Press), and in various anthologies, most recently, 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (New York University Press), This Bridge We Call Home: Embodying the Spirit of This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating (New York: Routledge), and she is the title poet of an anthology edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, The Space Between Our Footsteps (Simon & Schuster) in States, Europe and the Middle East
Nathalie’s works have been translated into many languages: French, Spanish and Arabic.
As a creative poet Nathalie is a prominent face in poetry recitals and reading scenes across the globe. Looking at her schedule one would wonder where she gets all this energy from!
“War” one of her poem, has been made into a theatre production.
Nathalie’s one of the biggest achievement is the Anthology of Arab Women Writers, titled, The Poetry of Arab Women, showcasing poetic works of more than 80 Arab Woman poets including: Elmaz Abi-Nader, Fawziyya Abu-Khalid, Etel Adnan, 'Aisha Arnaout, Andree Chedid, Nada al-Hage, Hoda Hussein, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Joanna Kadi, Fatma Kandil, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Nazik al-Mala'ika, Houda al-Na'mani, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Zakiyya Malallah, D.H.Melhem, Naomi Shihab Nye, Amina Said, Munia Samara, Lina Tibi and Fadwa Tuqan.
Translations of these works have been done by excellent translators and poets, I have been informed and have every reason to believe that is the case.
Nathalie is working for two more anthologies, Arab-American Literature and Dominican Literature and co-editing along with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar, Risen from East: An Anthology of South Asian, East Asian and Middle Eastern Poets.
She is writing a new play and working to prepare her next collection, The Lives of Rain.
This has been very difficult for me to do justice to the astonishing amount of work Nathalie has produced!
Nathalie Handal is not only a Palestinian poet but a voice of the world poetry that not only sings the Palestinian soul but also becomes a vivid choreograph of humanity. Readers must now begin to enjoy Nathalie Handal’s works.
The Lives of Rain (forthcoming)
The Travelling Rooms