23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023
Portrait Ghassan Zaqtan
© Hartwig Klappert

Ghassan Zaqtan

Ghassan Zaqtan was born in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in 1954. His father Khalil was a poet of the generation of 1948 and worked for the UNRWA, following the expulsion of Palestinians. For that reason Zaqtan spent his childhood and youth in refugee camps before his family moved near Amman. From 1978 to the time of the Israeli-Lebanese War (1982) Zaqtan lived in Beirut. During this time he published his first collections of poetry. In Damascus, where he was granted asylum after 1982, he became editor of the literature section of »al-Hurriya«, the organ of the moderate »Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine«. Following his years of exile in Damascus he spent time in Cyprus, Jordan again, Yemen, and Tunisia, where he published the PLO literary journal »Bayadir«, with Ahmad Dahbur. In 1994 Zaqtan returned to his »last exile Ramallah«.

Up to that time he had published three further collections of poetry, various prose anthologies, the novella »Wasf al-madi« (1995, tr.: Description of the Past), as well as various plays and scripts for documentary films and television. The pinnacle of his work was achieved in the three most recently published collections, »Istidraj al-jabal« (1999, tr: Call of the Mountain), »Sira bi al-fahm« (2003, tr: Biography In Charcoal) and »Ka-tayrin min al-qashsh yatba’uni « (2008, tr: Like A Bird Of Straw, Following Me). In this poetry of memory, in which places, objects, people and architecture are present as characters, there is a cautious revival of a historical legacy which lives on in the present and has grown beyond ideology and transformation in the collective memory. Inspired by the experience of returning »home«, the poet’s own history in exile is examined, as are the traces of occupation and violent expulsion which mark the history of Palestine. Image follows image, like faded photographs; the poet’s intimate perspective and empathetic language allow a new, ›truer‹ light to be cast on a history dominated by politics and religion and a conflict-torn present. At times Zaqtan’s texts, which vary traditional and free verse forms, can be understood as dialogues with poets like Mahmud Darwisch, Konstantin Kavafis or classics in the Arabic poetic tradition such as Abu Firas al-Hamdani or Malik ibn ar-Rayb.

In 1998 he co-founded, alongside other Palestinian poets the »House of Poetry« in Ramallah, which remains to this day an important location for cultural and poetic exchanges on the West Bank. Today he works as director of the literature and publishing department of the Ministry for Culture in Ramallah and also edits the literature supplement of the Palestinian daily newspaper »al-Ayyam«.  He is one of the most significant and innovative Palestinian poets.

© international literature festival berlin


Laisa min ajli
Dar al-multaqa
Limasol, 1992

Sama khafifa
Damascus, 1993

Wasf al-madi
Amman, 1995

Istidraj al-jabal
Al-Muassasa al-arabiya
Beirut, 1999

Sira bi al-fahm
Riad El Rayyes
London/Beirut, 2003

Ka-tayrin min al-qashsh
Riad El Rayyes
London/Beirut, 2008