The Earth in the Attic (Yale Series of Younger Poets)
The Earth in the Attic (Yale Series of Younger Poets)
Fady Joudah
Yale University Press, 2008
96 pp., $40.00

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Paul Willis

An Evening with Two Palestinian Poets

Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah.

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In the question-and-answer session following the reading, when asked about a possible solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Zaqtan stated unequivocally that the only hope was a single state. Joudah was more pessimistic. The solution, he said bitterly, if indeed it ever came about, would take place long after his lifetime. When challenged on this by a colleague at dinner, who suggested that history provides more than a few surprising examples of accommodation between enemies that occurs sooner than one might imagine, he flew into something of a rage. He was tired of condescending remarks like this from outsiders, he said. What we needed was to move beyond the myth of the nation-state—the myth that a people only matter if they form a nation-state. "We need to see that for what it is—as just a myth," he said.

"But there's no such thing as 'just a myth,' " I found myself interjecting. As the song says, I don't know much about history, but now we were verging on literature. "We live and breathe by myths," I added. "There's no such thing as mythlessness—of getting beyond them. They can be re-shaped. They can be challenged. By great writers sometimes. Shakespeare questions the myth of revenge in Hamlet. Milton turns the myth of the warrior-hero on its head in Paradise Lost."

He looked at me and waved his hand. "Who reads Milton?" he said.

At the end of this remarkable evening—and it was remarkable, in uncanny ways I can scarcely describe—Fady Joudah apologized for what he feared was his rudeness and threw his arms around me as if I were his long-lost friend. I went home thinking about this and other acts of common decency, our uncommon words that still go with them.

For when our food had been brought to the table, Greg had asked me to say a prayer. Taking a deep breath, I had instructed everyone to join hands, and then gave thanks in the name of Jesus. Fady Joudah had looked at me and laughed. "Ghassan is used to that," he said. "His wife is a Palestinian Christian."

Paul J. Willis is professor of English at Westmont College. His most recent books of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm) and Visiting Home (Pecan Grove Press).

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