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Review: Midnight and Other Poems, by Mourid Barghouti

Denise Fahmy, May 2009

Mourid Barghouti's Midnight, published by Yorkshire-based Arc Publications in 2008, is an extraordinary read.

Midnight is a powerful, book-length poem that swings between the universal and the particular and oozes both despair and grace.

Midnight presents the reverie of a man on New Year's Eve. The man has witnessed and reflects upon massacre and love, loss and freedom. The poem moves from story to imaginings, from the day-to-day detail of everyday objects to broad and sweeping global insights.

Despite the length of the poem and Midnight's hypnotic voice, the read is urgent; Midnight is underpinned by a painful quandary, the need to reconcile life-long hopelessness with the urge to live and flourish. This impossible balance informs the poem's struggle.

Midnight is routed in Barghouti's experience as a Palestinian writer exiled from his homeland in 1967. Dislocation, loss, fear, outrage and a landscape of violence infuse the poem. A dreadful waiting hangs over the protagonist - Life is hidden somewhere, I know, Somewhere not far from here, I know.

Barghouti circles Macbeth's Tomorrow soliloquy, and when he finally confronts it, it is with a dreadful irony. Midnight is drawn beyond the individual's sadness, to a nation in despair, a people with no tomorrow and a generational inherited tragedy began in 1948 at Al Naqba ('The catastrophe' when Palestinians were ethnic cleansed from their homes over a 2 month period).

Midnight's protagonist finds solace in sunshine and love and open values but the tension of psychological survival under violent occupation haunts him.

One passage refers to a metaphoric sack hood that the protagonist can wear, enabling him to adopt a platonic world view in which he is the centre of the universe, interpretating the world entirely subjectively, allowing him to choose his perspective. The impossibility of this positioning is exposed through Barghouti's simple statements. Do not expose your face, even when you have gulped precious air.

The simplicity of Barghouti's statements is deeply resonant; the protagonist resolutely looks to the present to resolve the problem of confronting a dead tomorrow.

I can highly recommend this incredibly thoughtful piece. I hope you enjoy it.