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PEN International talks to Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour

Monday 2 July 2018 - 2:22pm

PEN International president Jennifer Clement with Dareen Tatour at her home in Reineh near Nazareth. October 2017

Available in Arabic here

Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet and citizen of Israel who has spent more than two years in jail or under house arrest since October 2015. Tatour was convicted by an Israeli court on 3 May 2018 on charges of incitement to violence and support for terror organizations. The conviction is mainly related to a YouTube video in which she recites one of her poems entitled, ‘Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum (Resist, my people, resist them)’. She is now awaiting her sentencing hearing, which has been postponed until July 31, 2018. PEN International spoke to her in November 2017.

PEN: You have now been under house arrest for two years. What is the impact of this on you? Has it affected your writing? 

Dareen: Certainly. It is very bad to be a prisoner. This has put an end to my human life, work, and education… but the silver lining is that I have dedicated more of my time to writing and reading.  Today, I have a poetry book ready to be published, and I am finishing a novel that I might possibly title Memoirs of a Detained Poetess. One of my detention restrictions is to prevent me from publishing any of my writings. But as soon as that journey ends, I shall immediately publish what I have written during this period.

PEN: What is the impact on you as a writer to not be able to publish your work?

When poets write, it is with the purpose of publishing their writings; if these were to remain unpublished, they would feel crushed by their weight. That is why I felt that all the poems I wrote were soul-crushing. It was extremely hard to accept that I would write without communicating my message to others. Nevertheless, I always have hope, for I am certain that imprisonment will end no matter how long it would last, and therefore I will publish my writings and more than make up for what I have missed out on during the intervening period. Imprisonment is very hard on me as a poet, as it would even be on any artist; the mere thought of my poems being not being published and read by others is extremely difficult. At any rate, it is possible to imprison the body of a poet, an artist or a writer, but their imagination can never be imprisoned.

PEN: What is the importance of PEN's work in the Middle East?

Dareen: I will answer this question from the perspective of my case, especially given the interest and support I have received from PEN. I had never experienced any similar interest and support from any other party or organisation working to support writers, poets and artists. I believe that PEN is one of the most important organisations out there, not only among those I have heard of, but also those whose representatives I have met, such as Carles Torner and Jennifer Clement. Moreover, the messages I have received from the members have been very strengthening; they encourage me to carry on the path I have started, which is to fulfil the mission of a poet and a writer. It is one of the world’s most important organizations in my opinion.

PEN: What can organisations like PEN do to support writers in your situation?

Dareen: I believe that what you have provided – support and letters from members, support and follow-up with my case, visits, continuing to highlight cases like mine -  is one of the world’s most important things you can do. They help people who are subjected to harassment or intellectual persecution and alleviate their suffering.

PEN: Who are you favourite writers? Which writers have influenced you the most?

Dareen: Nazik al-Malaika and Fadwa Tuqan, both of them are poetesses. Fadwa is Palestinian and has suffered a lot because of her writing about the Occupation; she wrote about the persecution of women, and her ideas are very close to mine and I was thus greatly influenced by her as a person and her poems. Nazik al-Malaika is an Iraqi poet whose poems were the first I have ever read. She also wrote about women, their concerns, especially Arab women; Women’s literature. She is one of the first poets who penned female poetry and gained fame. There is also Mahmoud Darwish and other writers and poets from around the world. But these two poetesses are the ones who impressed within me the need to carry on writing.

I would like to thank all the organisation’s leadership and members who corresponded with me. I have received many messages from many countries which I cannot reply to individually. But I assure you that as soon as my detention will end I shall respond to all these messages.

All of us creatives and writers hope for our words to reach everyone.

Read more about Dareen Tatour and the latest in her case here.