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Despair breeds hope
8 min read

The bridge between poetry and children's literature.

Fatena al-Jamal, born in Ramallah, is a writer who specializes in cultural affairs. She works at the Tamer Institute for Community Education, and writes poetry and articles. She is published in various Arab newspapers.

Credits Text: Fatena al-Jamal Translation by Wael Sawah May 26 2023

Ever since the first dreamers, Adam and Eve, ventured beyond paradise, humanity has been cursed with passion. We have striven, worked, loved, created, struggled, cried, and laughed with every fiber of our beings to express our passions fully.

Dreamers possess the unique ability to explore the universe's pomegranate, discovering flavors, textures, and scents that were previously unknown. They lead us towards the unknown, seeking the joy of realizing it.

Throughout history, dreamers of all kinds have been abundant. Abbas Ibn Firnas, an Andalusian, was the first to dream of flying. Galileo, the great-grandson of pasta makers, dreamed of an oval planet, shattering the earth's crown of centralism. Imru' al-Qais composed a poem of ninety verses, invoking his beloved.

Many dreamers have paid the ultimate price while pursuing their dreams. Generations have encountered the dream flame, which ignites creativity through imagination. Creative dreamers exist in a space between hope and despair, and they are known as artists.

Art is akin to a fetus growing within the creator's belly, demanding supplements and exercise to create an environment conducive to the ferocious beast's development. Passion, coupled with either hope or despair, is the folic acid necessary for art creation.

This fetus consumes all emotions until its sources are depleted, requiring the artist to pursue new sources of inspiration. Artists leap between broken hearts, overachievements, and failures, using their life sport to strengthen their muscles and create.

Among the many arms of art, poetry stands out as one that weaves meaning and rhythm with the threads of experience. It strikes the reader's heart relentlessly, shaking their world and redefining their emotional system. Poetry gives readers a wand to rediscover their humanity, which they may have lost along the way.

When reading poetry, the verses linger long after you go to bed, and in the morning, you awaken to the same room with a new perspective. A single poem has the power to fill a heart with hope, lifting them out of despair without them even realizing it.

What makes a poem so powerful and close to the heart and mind? What gives it the ability to recreate hope in a person, pulling them out of the depths of despair?

In his masterpiece The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Zavon wrote that "Every poet is inhabited by the soul of a criminal," while Wordsworth claimed that "The child is the father of the man." These seemingly contradictory statements raise questions about who a poet truly is. Is a poet someone with a criminal or innocent spirit? Are they a child or an adult? Are they a dissident or a saint? Where does poetry flow from? A graceful, shiny life or a heavy, fragmented experience?

A poet is all of the above and more. They embody various personalities and moods, each pushing forward its own agenda. The birth of a poem represents the victory of one of these voices.

Muhammad has published a large number of books in various fields. This section focuses on his work as a poet and writer of children's books. His books The first Flower on Earth, Shaashbouna, Namola, and Amira were published by the Tamer Institute for Community Education in the years 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.

The Palestinian author addresses in these books key childhood issues like bullying, loneliness, friendship, motherhood, and fatherhood. Muhammad does it with the utmost sincerity, which children are drawn to. The fact that he can address these types of themes shows children’s high ability to contemplate the world around them, using just their instinct– that hasn’t been tainted by adult life.

In his book Amira, for example, Muhammad describes a father who does not openly express his love for his daughter. She begins to think that he doesn't love her, and runs away. One day, however, she visits her father's heart, only to discover a cherry tree with a note on it that read: It's all for you, my Amira.

The story raises the idea that there is more than one way for fathers to express their love to their children, and sheds light on the problem of miscommunication. The book is seen as unique in the field of Palestinian children’s books. It raises the issue with courage, bringing hope to struggling parents and children; hope for a healthy and positive relationship, or hope to find a path to understanding and connecting– a path not taken by all.

Returning to Mother Nature is another feature of Zakaria Muhammad's writings for children. In his book The first Flower on Earth, the writer compared motherhood to a seed. Just like in motherhood, seeds, raw and planted in the ground, often take time to grow. Every time motherhood occurs, it seems as if it were the first time ever. When she finally blooms, she spreads warmth to everything around her, just like the sun. Muhammad writes:

And when the flower has fully opened,
and became round like the sun,
a sweet and soft voice echoed in the valleys and plains:
Mama… Mama… Mama.

In this book, Zakaria Muhammad is honest and courageous as he considers "motherhood", a routine social event, from a completely different point of view. He says that motherhood requires time, patience, and great effort– just like a plant. Sometimes confusion happens during motherhood, leading to grief. But motherhood can always be restored during the experience, bringing immense joy. Returning to the mother and child, he continues:

She repeated it ten times:

Mama… Mama.
But suddenly, and out of nowhere,
the word fell out of her mouth to the ground,
it fell and rolled like a coin,
and disappeared.

Ending the story:

Everyone knew that the red flower,
was the word that fell from the little girl's mouth!
She didn't spell out the word she loved: Mama,
rather, it turned into a red flower like the sun.

Honesty and courage have many manifestations; they bear good and evil, purity and experience, joy and sadness. These contradictions can also be seen in mother nature and the universe to guarantee balance. The existence of one is not possible without its opposite. Muhmmad explores these contradictions in his poetry and children’s books. It’s part of what makes his pieces likely to reach the hearts and souls of readers.

In his book Alanda, the poet addresses trees, rocks, flowers, planets, and even God himself. He goes through contemplative journeys in which he shifts his focus between himself and the world around him. He lets his passion feed on the mountains, dolphins, dogs, and grass, as he sharpens his vision to see everything, great and small.

Here, the poet pays great attention to what the trees tell him, especially the olive and palm trees, considered mother trees in Palestine. When he gets bored of Planet Earth, Muhammad does not hesitate to travel to other planets, employing the legends of tribes that lived here thousands of years ago. Exploring ancient legends is not new to the Palestinian poet. He enjoys digging into the history of peoples, and has several publications in the field.

Many writers of romantic poetry are filled with peace and wisdom. It is as if the answers to major cosmic questions were written in the palms of their hands. Muhammad, however, does not seem frantic to obtain answers. He questions everything, poking the reader’s imagination and challenging them to think and ask all the questions, especially the very scary ones.

He employs the elements of nature in writing his poetry. He interacts with them with great vitality, to refine his cosmic philosophy about humans, existence, good and evil, love and hate, loss and eternity, neglect and nostalgia, life and death. His poems, home to conflicting conceptual clues, show that it is not possible for a feeling to ferment or an experience to be complete, without its opposite. Thus, had it not been for despair, we would not have known hope. He writes:

A flower fell, and her sister followed her.
For twenty days I have been singing this verse,
not getting out of it.
Leave me here, another day to rebuild my life.
Sorrow continues,
and my job is to break the branches,
and kindle the fire of sorrow with them.
Let me uproot the watercress from its roots,
so that its misfortune is not renewed.
The night is slaying in my room,
and falling on my lips.

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