“I Remember My Name” is an anthology of poems about Palestine. The editor, Vacy Vlazana, has collected poetry from three writers from the Palestinian diaspora whose roots are in Gaza. Though it is a short read, it is powerful. Despite the fact that all of the poets have something in common in terms of coming from Gaza, living in the diaspora and being poets, the unique style of each one stands out.
Each of the three contributors - Samah Sabawi, Jehan Bseiso and Ramzy Baroud - have their own section within the book, with a mini-biography at the beginning. With such a layout, Vlazana allows readers to have some insight into the poets and their story before reading their work. This, I feel, gives the poetry a greater impact.
Having their own section also means that we can get an idea about which part of Palestinian culture they identify with most. Samah Sabawi, for example, writes about the way that her parents have preserved Palestinian culture in the household with her father writing poetry about Palestine and her mother cooking Palestinian food. It is also clear that, as a mother, she expresses the wish to pass her Palestinian heritage onto her children through both her writing and her cooking. Ramzy Baroud’s passion for the plight of refugees was also very obvious.
Without being repetitive in its content, the book highlights major themes that are familiar to Palestinians in the homeland and diaspora, such as war, peace and even guilt. “Defying the Universe” by Sabawi describes the many feelings that Palestinians in the diaspora experience; feelings of gratitude for not being in a war zone, as well as guilt when it is realised that loved ones are suffering.
My favourites were the poems about Palestinian literature itself. Jehan Bseiso’s “Letter to Ghassan Kanafani on the 66th anniversary of the Nakba” struck me in particular, partly because I found myself reading it whilst drinking out of my “Ghassan Kanafani mug”. I began to read it, somewhat envious that Bseiso shares the same birthday with the eponymous writer and freedom fighter. I then realised that most of the things that she longs to say to him are things that I would like to say too, which made me stop and think a bit more than I did with the other poems.
This particular poem suggests that it is crucial for Palestinians to attach their culture to literature, reinforcing Kanafani’s most famous concept of “adab al moqawameh”, the notion that no liberation movement is complete without literature. Without even mentioning this thesis, Bseiso adds further evidence for it. Kanafani experienced the 1948 Nakba, Bseiso didn’t, but she writes to him sharing his pain and highlighting the fact that the scars of his generation have passed down to her generation and beyond.
The book very helpfully includes a glossary of words and references for those who are not familiar with Palestine and the ongoing tragedy; this is useful for contextualising the poems.
I found this anthology to be very moving. The poets’ collective talent is evident, and the way that the book is organised turned a collection of poems into an emotional journey. It is a truly unforgettable read packed with intuitive feelings and meanings that define what it means to be a Palestinian.