Mahmud Darwish. I should write something about Mahmud Darwish. I have translated quite a few of his poems here. I like his oldest Diwan very much and have read it repeatedly over the years. My taste in Arabic poetry is rather old-fashioned: I like the classical ones, and I like the modern Iraqi poets, but have always appreciated Darwish. I was perhaps avoiding writing about Darwish because there is so much emotions involved. His death is a big deal in the Arab world: a Mauritanian poet was talking to AlJazeera about the sadness in Mauritania. His death in the Arab context is comparable to the death of say, Pushkin for Russian, or like the death of Victor Hugo in France when people roamed the streets yelling that Victor Hugo has died. At the personal level (as I knew a lot about him), I did not like him. At the political level, I did not like him at all. But at the literary level: he is peerless. It is a joke that Naguib Mahfouz won that silly Nobel Prize. He is our greatest living writer of Arabic, but he is not Egyptian and did not like the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. My friend Sinan was telling me that so many of the Arab eulogies were annoying, and I could not agree more. Saudi media hated him, and to his credit, and despite all my political disagreements with him (not that he knew about them or cared), he really never liked the Gulf regimes and did not visit there to my knowledge. He had that visit to Iraq, and Al-Watan Al-`Arabi reported at the time that he called Saddam “the knight of Arabism” but other people who knew him well said that it was not true, and that he was not pleased with the visit. But his relation with Arafat was very problematic. He could not break with Arafat at all, and wanted to have it both ways: to pretend that he was some independent Palestinian intellectual while maintaining that poisonous relations with that awful figure of Palestinian national politics. There is so much that can be said about his literary genius, but for me his major accomplishment were: 1) that he was able to extricate himself artistically from the adulation of the masses: he once said in the early 1970s in a major reading in Beirut–according to a witness who told me–something to the effect: please spare me that love; 2) that he was courageous in expressing himself poetically without regard to mass taste. No matter how much we wanted him to go back to the early years of direct political poetry, he continued ot develop his own style as if living in his own world. That is his greatest fete as a poet. Compare that, say, to the poetry of Sa`id `Aql (as much as I like it) or to Samih Qasim who stagnated poetically. Adonis is a different story as his early poetry was better than his later ones when he thought he was being profound. 3) his prose is not much appreciated. If he was being interviewed, I used to be mesmerized. Nobody I know uses Arabic prose or write it as he did. It was incredible. I have many favorites in Darwish’s poetry, but his poem after the fall of Tal Az-Za`tar is one of my favorites (Ahmad Az-Za`tar–I translated most of it before here).