Books for changing the world

Rifqa is Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd’s ode to his late grandmother, and to the Palestinian struggle for liberation. ‘Jerusalem is ours.’

Each day after school, Mohammed El-Kurd’s grandmother welcomed him at the door of his home with a bouquet of jasmine. Her name was Rifqa—she was older than Israel itself and an icon of Palestinian resilience. With razor-sharp wit and glistening moral clarity, El-Kurd lays bare the brutality of Israeli settler colonialism. His poems trace Rifqa’s exile from Haifa to his family’s current dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, exposing the cyclical and relentless horror of the Nakba. El-Kurd’s debut collection definitively shows that the Palestinian struggle is a revolution, until victory.
  • “May these poems challenge and awaken you. May they shake you into action. May they help you find the words for what you already know to be true... These words remind me that home is a series of shared memories, not brick and mortar. Home is where we go to remember and revisit who we’ve always been. Mohammed El-Kurd’s poetry is a home returned to us.”
    Aja Monet, from the foreword

    “Rooted in Palestine and ranging across the world, these are poems that hurl themselves at the boundaries of what poems can do; lyrics that put a premium on anger, that reflect the serrated edges of living in the world today, that gift new and powerful phrases to the lexicon of liberation.”
    —Ahdaf Soueif, author of Cairo: My City, Our Revolution

    Rifqa is an absolute marvel, and El-Kurd is precisely the kind of poet— Palestinian or otherwise—we need right now: unafraid of the truth. The legacy of his grandmother, the eponymous Rifqa, flits across these poems, and with it comes wisdom, hope, and, most crucially of all, memory … El-Kurd doesn’t flinch from the violence and death that comes with dispossession. But make no mistake. These are the poems of the defiantly, unapologetically, wholly alive.”
    —Hala Alyan, author, The Arsonists’ City

    Rifqa is an admixture of the most intimate violence—wounds that are as difficult to reveal as they are to heal—together with song and dance that beseech the sun to sustain this life and these lands that ensure it. Rifqa El-Kurd lives in Mohammed and Mohammed breathes life into us, scented with fire and jasmine flowers, so that we may know her, and the victory she embodied, too.”
    —Noura Erekat, author, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine

    Rifqa is the collision of strength and vulnerability. Earnest in its exploration of the grave realities in one corner of the globe, it is a banging on the doors of the world. It illustrates the wit that is necessary to weave together the tragic with the hopeful and the painful with the joyful. Rifqa is a testament to overcoming fear in expression, a book that will resonate with you, one you hold and return to over and over again.”
    —Mariam Barghouti, journalist, researcher, activist, and commentator

    “Palestinians have long fought with poetry. Napoleon’s army in Palestine was defeated by warrior poets. El-Kurd’s words are part of this long and dazzling lineage. An elegy to our ancestors, maternal, whose resistance we hope to honor, each poem is a rock hurled at the occupier and the oppressor. A beautiful and important book.”
    —Randa Jarrar, author, Love Is an Ex-Country

    “Mohammed El-Kurd weaves the ancestors and Land into every breath of these poems. ‘Every grandmother is a Jerusalem,’ El-Kurd reminds us, in jasmine-scented memory, in liminal space and punch line, in auto- and anti-biography. Here is poetry the whole of us can turn and return to—even in grief, even in contradiction. Liberating itself from respectability & other colonialist gazes weaponized against Palestinians, here is poetry insistent on truths we’ve carried for generations. JERUSALEM IS OURS. El-Kurd writes this with its whole chest, knowing our lives—the whole & future of us—depend on it.
    —George Abraham, author, Birthright

    “El-Kurd’s poems are attuned to language as a terrain of struggle. Refusing the myriad euphemisms that conceal and authorize Israel’s ongoing violence, he insists on a clarity that emplots each act in a field of history … But if El-Kurd’s poems witness the relentless reiterations of settler colonial violence, they also document the rebuttals and tendernesses—Mahfoutha Ishtayyeh chaining herself to a tree, “olive skin on olive skin,” in the face of an Israeli bulldozer; Rifqa El-Kurd welcoming her grandson home from school each day with jasmine wrapped in Kleenex—seeds of other futures nestled within the present.”
    Jewish Currents

    “Paying powerful homage to his Palestinian people's lives and struggles, while elegantly educating the reader, Mohammed El-Kurd's debut poetry collection, Rifqa, is a symbolic masterpiece … The poet understands politics is as much about emotion as it is logic, and his devastating way with words lets him deploy this knowledge in full.”
    The New Arab

    “Like other Palestinian poets, from Fadwa Tuqan to Rashid Hossein to Mahmoud Darwish, Kurd has a significant role to play in forging an international front against settler-colonialism and imperialism around the world … We should be grateful that this is Kurd’s first book rather than his last, and that we can look forward to many decades of poetic innovation from this extraordinarily multifaceted and politically engaged poet.”
    Middle East Eye

    ‘At 24, Mohammed El-Kurd is already a poet of note. He is also a visual artist, and an activist like Rifqa. He has synthesized and overcome his American education in poetry. He no longer feels like he has to hide in his words.’
    The Markaz Review

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