An Intifada of poetry

September 28, 2015

Daphna Thier reviews Remi Kanazi's new book of poetry Before the Next Bomb Drops.

THE VOICES of the oppressed are intentionally marginalized in our society. Most artwork is purposely whitewashed, radical politics are shut out, and resistance is repressed. But Haymarket Books has just published a brilliant, angry, radical book of poetry that brings those voices to the forefront--Palestinian American Remi Kanazi's Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine.

Last year, Haymarket published The BreakBeat Poets, an ode to hip-hop culture and the radical poets of the American hip-hop generation. That book illustrated how poetry can be a voice for the world's oppressed and for politics of resistance.

In his book, poet, performer and activist Remi Kanazi makes his voice heard loud and clear. In a chilling, provocative and decidedly radical poetry book, Kanazi brings together the age-old Palestinian and Arab culture of poetry and the medium of a new age of American BreakBeat poets.

The book highlights the humanity of Black and Brown people, but also draws radical connections between the Palestinian plight, occupation, border control, racism, poverty and criminalization of young Black people in America. It's not a sit-on-your-shelf-and-look-cool kind of book--it's an urgent call to action and a piercing analysis of capitalism and imperialism.

Remi Kanazi performing his poetry
Remi Kanazi performing his poetry (Daniela Kantorova)

In Before the Next Bomb Drops, Kanazi tells the story of the ongoing Zionist ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, starting with what Palestinians call the Nakba of 1948--the mass expulsion of large numbers of Palestinians as the state of Israel was formed. Kanazi crosses every imaginable line to express the anguish, the rage and the hope of Palestinians.

In one harrowing page after another, life under occupation is illuminated: the constant threat of arrest, separation from your family or death; Palestinians living in an open prison in Gaza, a laboratory for bombs and war crimes; and Palestinians living under siege in the West Bank.

In the poem "Hebron," Kanazi describes how 30,000 Palestinians are held captive by 850 Jewish settlers--the epitome of apartheid.

He chronicles the personal stories of Palestinian refugees, describing the desire of Palestinians in exile, like himself, to return to a place that is their homeland and their birthright, but which has been denied them. Exile, displacement and identity have become integral to the experience of the diaspora and are entrenched in contemporary Palestinian poetry, as this book exemplifies.

In his poem "Layover in Palestine," Kanazi writes,

got through and felt lucky
got through and felt ashamed
got through and felt ashamed
that I felt lucky
the empire's passport
burning a hole
in my back pocket

just want to sit and be present
feel what it is like to be home
without someone pulling
on your shoulder
taking you away

BUT KANAZI doesn't stop there. Palestinians aren't victims, he argues, but fierce resisters and leaders in a global struggle against the most powerful governments in the world.

He describes the effects of neoliberal capitalism on the kind of peace process the West, Israel and the compliant Palestinian Authority are interested in--and what the continuous search for markets and borders open to capital but not human beings actually does to those human beings on the ground.

Kanazi also ties the question of real justice to the broader fight against racism and global hegemony of the U.S and its imperialist watchdog, Israel.

Kanazi isn't afraid to make one controversial argument after another. He calls out the hypocrisy of the West in turning a blind eye to the cruelty experienced by Palestinians in Gaza, but then being appalled at the beheading of a Western journalist. He sharply argues against liberals and Jewish groups that demand Palestinians "dialogue" with racist ideas.

He remarks on the "hurt feelings" of Jewish liberals for "being singled out" and says, in the poem "This Divestment Bill Hurts My Feelings":

the real question
why are you singling out
any injustice for protection

Kanazi makes a call to people to become active in the fight, to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He even calls on soldiers to refuse to pull the trigger for the U.S. government. No, this isn't a text preaching to the choir--he demands that we think more about the world that we live in, that we debate and engage in real discourse, and that we get organized.

The book also expresses privilege-checking and identity politics--the state of our movements reflected in his words. But that's what modern poetry is--a forum for conflict both without and within. Spoken word, poetry and hip-hop can be undeniably political and allow democratic expression outside the stifling mainstream.

Kanazi ends the acknowledgments to this book with the words, "The road is long, the challenges are many, but we have a fire inside of us that can't be extinguished." And that is what this book is--a fire that can't be extinguished, banging on our doors demanding to be spread. An intifada of words.

This is expressed by Samir, a young Palestinian who has experienced the brutality of occupation, who speaks to Kanazi in the poem "A Grin Behind the Tears":

no matter how tight Israel thinks its grip is
the bullets, the bombs, the checkpoints
the UN vetoes, the congressional applauding
these children are more powerful than F-16s
more assured than U.S. military aid

they will climb walls, skirt roadblocks, dodge teargas
they will unravel injustice by their very existence
in every breath they take, every wedding that's held
every newborn they bring into this world, they know it
Zionists know it, the occupation's days are numbered

Further Reading

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