Climbing a steep mountain is a challenging task. Not everyone can endure the rigours of climbing a mountain. Mountains represent adventure, escape, and conquest. Mountains also symbolise the edge of possibilities. Life is an uphill climb on mountains, says the Palestinian writer and poet Fadwā Tūqān (1917–2003), who titled her autobiography Mountainous Journey: A Difficult Journey. Her autobiography, which challenges conventional academic accounts and established genres, blends autobiographical with academic and fictional writing, providing an alternative to traditional historical narratives and methodology.
Tūqān, best known for her resistance poetry against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, connects the dots between resistance, victory, patriarchy, and feminism. In her gripping memoir, her narrative is immersed in many layers in which she depicts the self, womanhood, and many other themes. Also known of as ‘the mother of Palestinian poetry’, Fadwā Tūqān was perhaps the most famous female Palestinian poet. Her title, the ‘Poet of Palestine’, suggested that her fame goes further.
In an interview Tūqān was asked, despite being a Muslim woman, what made her write a poem on the birthday of Jesus Christ? Tūqān spontaneously responded that we Muslims believe in Jesus and his messenger-hood, and the second reason for writing this poem was that Jesus was the first Palestinian martyr.
The political turmoil of 1948 and 1967 shook Tūqān. At that moment she turned to both active politics and poetry to reflect her political struggle. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish considered the events of 1967, which started the Palestinian occupation, as an ‘earthquake’. This was the decisive event that made Tūqān stray from her exclusive poetic interests to become engaged in politics.
In his poem ‘Fadwā’, eulogising her, Darwish captures her dilemma of not being fully content with the deteriorating conditions of the Palestinian people. Darwish asks: ‘what does the poet do at the time of catastrophe? Suddenly the poet is forced to emerge from her own interiority and reach the external reality. Poetry then becomes the witness.’ He goes further to add, ‘She visited us in Haifa… a hostage seeking hostages, and read us her first poem about the new ordeal: “I will not cry”.’ But on that day, Darwish said, ‘she was crying like a dove. Love songs ceased to be the answer to hate and inhumanity.’