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Fadwa Tuqan: An Arab Electra
By Abbas Beydoun
Fadwa Tuqan has passed away in her late 80s, but even so we cannot imagine her very old or retired. For many years, Fadwa Tuqan withdrew herself from the literary scene, her absence accentuated by Palestine 's remoteness after 1967. She clung to her home by becoming more Palestinian, as if she returned to Palestine and disappeared beyond the bridge which separates the West Bank from Jordan. But that world beyond the bridge differed sharply from the world on the other side; it was a world of siege, tanks and military operations, constant destruction, death, and everyday unconventional, epic, and tragic. Based in that world, Fadwa Tuqan was one of three poets, all scattered in different places, who embraced the modern poem: Nazik al-Mala'ika, aging and bed-ridden for some time; Fadwa Tuqan who passed away yesterday; and Salma al-Khadra al-Jayyusi, who has managed to produce an encyclopedic work of poetry living in London. Since these three, women's share of poetry has declined and men have become overwhelmingly dominant.
Fadwa was an original poet in her own right, writing from her own experiences and for her late brothers, Ibrahim Tuqan, the most famous Palestinian poet of the time; and for her second brother, who died in a tragic accident. Fadwa stood up as an Electra in mourning between two dead brothers, shouldering the pain of the family, which we can easily call Palestine. Poetry came to her in the image of the Palestinian fate; ultimately her choice to write poetry was not as important as her real mission, which fell somewhere between that of Joan of Arc and al-Khansa.* Despite her mission, Fadwa's voice was not a fighting one but bereaved, deprived, gentle, and insistent and visceral at times; it was a voice searching for love only to find fate, searching for a song and a flower to find instead the grave and the tank. Fadwa wrote about that orphaned rose, that orphaned love which she encountered in a world filled with mourning and violence. She was a mother before giving birth, and found herself fighting before loving in spite of herself. Her poetry, which by the end of her life had become remote, is the small song of loss, a small elegy for a dead family, a small love for a fallen city. Her poetry struggles to become a song, yet becomes a torrent of tears. Love struggles in order not to shout. The young woman – we do not know how she grew and aged – struggles to remain the youth of Arab poetry, the orphan of Arab poetry, the Electra of Arab poetry.
*Al-Khansa is a pre-Islamic poetess who wrote eulogies to her brothers.
The Arabic version of this essay appeared in As Safir newspaper.