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The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems
July 20, 2012

New Release: Before There Is Nowhere to Stand: Palestine / Israel: Poets Respond to the Struggle

Before There is Nowhere to Stand: Palestine / Israel: Poets Respond to the Struggle

edited by Joan Dobbie & Grace Beeler, with Edward Morin
introduction by Alicia Ostriker
in lieu of an introduction by Vivien Sansour
with a note by Christi Kramer

. . . The story of Israel | Palestine is ugly, tragic, human. But the book you hold in your hands exists to remind you that the story is not finished. . . .

Alicia Ostriker


Ruth Fogelman | Yousef el Qedra | Yasmin Snounu | Yael Ben-Israel | Willa Schneberg | Vivien Sansour | Tom Berman | Tawfiq Zayyad | Susan Martin | Sharon Doubiago | Seema V. Atalla | Scot Siegel | Sandy Polishuk | Samuel Hazo | Samih al-Qasim | Sami Al Jundi | Sam Hamod | Sabena Stark | Rochelle Mass | Rick Black | Richard Tillinghast | Richard E. Sherwin | Reuven Goldfarb | Reja-e Busailah | Rachel Corrie | Rachel Barenblat | Peter Marcus | Nizar Qabbani | Nitza Agam | Naomi Shihab Nye | Monica Raymond | Molly Spencer | Miriam Stanley | Mike Maggio | Merle Feld | Maryna Ajaja | Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld | Marian Haddad | Mahmoud Darwish | Lahab Assef Al-Jundi | Khaled Abdallah | Judy Kronenfeld | Judith A. Brice | Joy Ladin | Johnmichael Simon | Jerry Newman | J. Weintraub | Ingrid Wendt | Helen Bar-Lev | Hannah Stein | Hadassah Haskale | Gloria Bletter | Gavriel Reisner (Ben-Ephraim) | Fadwa Tuqan | Erik Sutter-Kaye | Ellen Bass | Elana Bell | Edward Morin | Doreen Stock | Diab Rabie | Debbi Brody | David Miller | David Gershator | Dana Negev | Dafna Hornike | CB Follett | Carolyne Wright | Carol Alena Aronoff | Bonnie J. Morris | Atar Hadari | Alicia Ostriker | Aftab Yusuf Shaikh | Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber) | Adam Schonbrun | Ada Aharoni

from the Introduction by Alicia Ostriker

“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,”Â  prophesied Isaiah in the 8th century BCE, neither shall they learn war any more.” Presently we are not holding our breath waiting for that moment. Jews have a story. Arabs have a story. Jews and Arabs can both be experts at seeing themselves as victims and the other side as implacable foes. As my engineer friend in Tel Aviv says, “It all started when he hit me back.” The story of Israel/Palestine is ugly,  tragic, human. But the book you hold in your hands exists to remind you that the story is not finished. The long, lyric, haunting poem, composed by Peter Marcus, consists of alternating passages by Mahmoud Darwish and Yehuda Amichai, the recently deceased most beloved poets of Palestine and Israel respectively. Here are the closing lines of this “Dialog Beneath the Light”:

I touch your mouth that now, perhaps,
will sing.

You will carry me and I will carry you.
Strangers are also brothers.

When a man’s far away from his country for a long time
his language becomes more precise, more pure.

Share my bread, drink my wine,
Don’t leave me alone like a tired willow.

from a NOTE  by Christi Kramer

There is, perhaps, an imagination that can transform the violent world we live in. Poetry holds this possibility. If language itself may efface or serve to reproduce narratives that diminish or that normalize oppression, where is the difference? Might poetry open to a telling that is full; might it be a place of witness, for meeting of self and other? In it, may a lone reader find (what you may call) courage or solidarity, humanity; or recognize in the creative act proof of resilience? Or, shall we share Mahmoud Darwish’s stance, that “Every beautiful poem is an act of resistance.”

You may find the poems gathered here to be invitation. Or  you might understand this anthology as response to a call for poetic imagination.

In 2009, the editors, Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler, both  Jewish descendants of Holocaust survivors, reeling against the  atrocities of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza massacre, issued a call for poetry. The ad, first posted in Poets & Writers read, “Are you Jewish or Palestinian? Of Palestinian or Jewish heritage? Please submit poetry for an anthology that strives for understanding in these troubled times. All points of view wanted in the belief that poetry can create understanding and understanding can dull hatred.” In response, the process that then followed embodied much of the complex dynamic of the conflict itself. Editors, while not wanting to foreclose any possible reading, were met with the need to attend to disparity of voice, asymmetry, and incongruence of historical awareness. To come close to approaching the goals they had set forth and to which contributing poets responded, and to help scaffold the anthology, the editors solicited an introduction from Palestinian poets. The anthology may fall short here: This didn’t happen. Vivien Sansour gave permission to print her correspondence in lieu of an introduction, along with two of her poems. Even as the editors do not assume there to be a singular Palestinian or Jewish “voice,” Vivien’s letter may echo opposition and challenge normalization. Because what is absent is as telling as what is present.

from a Letter from Vivian Sansour

Dear Joan and Grace,

Please accept my sincerest apologies for being so late in responding to you. I have been reading the manuscript and really struggling with it to be honest. For the sake of full integrity I would like to share with you a couple of things. I do not feel a just representation and I am afraid that in the context of an unfortunately misunderstood political reality the anthology, although I know and trust that it is well intentioned, perpetuates an idea that I am very uncomfortable with and that is of framing the situation as two people who just need to get along and who just don’t understand each other. I have been discussing it with my dear friend Ayelet who is a former Israeli soldier and currently lives in Los Angeles as she refuses to return to Israel and have her kids serve in the army. We had both performed poems we wrote to each other in the past and we have found that, unfortunately, the reality of a military occupation becomes clouded when the message of “bridging gaps of understanding between two people who just don’t get along” is perpetuated. In that spirit, I write you with my deepest regrets because I feel I cannot participate in your anthology; not in an introduction nor with my poems.

As I was making my trip from Jenin to the U.S. (via Jordan because I, like most Palestinians, am not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv) our car was stopped on the road by an Israeli checkpoint and we were forced out of the car and made to stand in the cold for half an hour. After being humiliated and screamed at by a young Israeli soldier (move, stop, walk, go back) we were finally let through to make it to the bridge to cross with thirteen different checks and stops in Palestinian-only buses that we were stuffed into like animals. It is hard for me on a personal level as well to compare and equate my experiences in the same context as my oppressor. The poem for the people of Sderot, for example, makes it look like we all suffer from the same demon of fear. While all human suffering is awful, in the grander political context there is a political force, a powerful military force that the people of Sderot are supported and protected by. They are part of a system that is systemically and slowly exterminating an indigenous population. Not to mention that Sderot is a settlement built on stolen land. The people of Gaza are imprisoned with no access to sea or land to run away to even. I do not want to focus on these details, I just want to explain why in the struggle to achieve justice, which is the only way to peace, I am growing more and more convinced alongside my Israeli and international colleagues who are also struggling for justice, that it is important for us to present the situation as it is: A military occupation and not a conflict between two people. Jews, Muslims, Christians have lived together in Palestine before 1948 and it was not until a European colonial project was started in the beginning of the 1900s that we started “not to get along.”

Unfortunately, I do not see myself participating in such a context. Perhaps I would if one day justice is served and we are in a state of reconciliation. However, this reconciliation whether through poetry or otherwise is not possible at this point. As I would like to describe it, it is like having to sit down with my rapist and understand his pain while he is still penetrating me.

My only regret is that I have taken a long time to come to this conclusion and I am afraid I have caused you an inconvenience in your process. But I would have also done you injustice to write an introduction that would not be in integrity with where I stand nor with how I think the struggle for justice is best served.