Defiance, nostalgia and politics emanate from Dareen Tatour’s bilingual poetry collection, I Sing From the Window of Exile (Drunk Muse Press, 2022). Tatour is well known for the commotion her poem “Resist, My People, Resist Them” caused in 2015, when she was arrested and later imprisoned for incitement and allegedly supporting terrorism. She presents the reader with an insightful collection that speaks to feeling, to awareness, and to knowledge.
Israel’s settler-colonial military occupation created specific trajectories for Palestinians which requires careful observations rather than encroaching upon space. Tatour’s poetry is an invitation towards observation and understanding, not only about what the violence is, but also what it means and how it scars. Conversely, the reader is also drawn into the Palestinian space where resistance thrives, alongside a dream of liberation and return. In Tatour’s poetry, the dream is not elusive but has a presence of its own that transcends realms. The pain of exile, of holding land in one’s heart while it is ravaged by Zionist colonisation, makes for excruciating reading. One can only imagine the actual experience. And yet, Tatour’s words reel the reader in to imagine and feel.
Being deprived of one’s land is an experience that is introduced immediately through the poem “Last Invasion”. “Here is where horror lies,/my being outside this city’s border, deprived of my right to land,” writes Tatour. Displacement and exile echo in other poems, reading like a seemingly endless trajectory. “Time is grief-stricken,” the poet articulates in “The Dove”, while pondering exile and the consequences of its permanence.
In “Farewell”, Tatour encapsulates the tenacity of Palestinian memory with the metaphor of birth leading to a promise that could mean nothing, or everything. “Along with the key to the ancient house/I live of bits and pieces of dreams/ …a ruse leading to nothing/on a surface of an idea called the return.” The theme is recurring in the poem “Birth”, where Tatour writes, “To be born in my homeland/yet feel as if I were in exile/is the definition of loss”. The reminder of internal forced displacement lingers in the poem, a reality which is concealed when speaking about Palestinians as a collective excluded from their narratives and histories.
In displacement, what does one protect? The home or the memory of it? “We are its last letters/but at the beginning it used to be/a home,” she writes in “Home”. A proof of belonging and ownership is taken away by Israeli colonialism, so the Palestinian’s experience of home is loss and the inversion occurs; memory protects the home, rather than the home protecting its inhabitants.
In “A Moral”, the poet’s words resonate with images of how silence is far from silent: “all the while, I scream:/ Palestine is all stories”. The theme is picked up again in “A Poet Behind Bars”, written in May 2015, when the indictment against her was filed. “In my prison, I met people/ and heard so many stories”. Moving on to her own predicament, she ponders how the words she penned became her accusation by the Israeli courts: “My poetry has been convicted,/ the poem is now a crime./ In the country of judgement, the freedom/ of the prison is the fate of artists.”
Other poems point towards Tatour’s experience of censorship within colonial violence. “A Poem’s Arrest” is particularly striking; while the poet herself is being searched and interrogated, the poem is the protagonist in the scenario, as evidenced in the title and the poem’s conclusion: “We only found letters/ in her pocket,/ we only found the poem.” While the last verse seemingly diminishes the importance of the poem, the imagery is all the more striking as the reader reverts to the title.
And again, a warning against silence. “Don’t be Silent” is a promise of renewed resistance. “Silence is murderous – your voice is a defence” This is a poem that encapsulates the Palestinian experience of colonial violence and resistance in its entirety.
While the poems are not grouped thematically, the book is imbued with coherence, perhaps because the Palestinian experience is so inextricably linked to every aspect of memory. In each poem, resistance is implied or asserted. Transitions are either lengthy or abrupt, or both, as in “The Story of a Little Girl”, in which Tatour muses about her childhood and her later awareness which unfolds at the experiences and observations of Israeli colonial violence.
Throughout the book, freedom remains elusive, reflecting the Palestinian experience. However, resistance is a constant. Tatour’s poetry does not fluctuate between the two but seeks to convey to the reader the necessity of the latter. If resistance stops, freedom dies. The Palestinian collective’s tenacity to resist, as well as the individual experience of resistance, is an assertion that transcends time with absolutes, as shown in the poem “My Freedom”: “They will never kill the sensation of freedom/which lies within me”. The sentiment echoes, even when Tatour documents her experiences in prison: “poetry in prison is light and flame,/ poetry in prison is nourishment,/it’s water and air”.
What Israel seeks to annihilate, the Palestinian people nurture. Tatour’s poetry testifies to this consistency.