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Rifqa: A Palestinian Poet’s Debut Collection

Palestinian poet shortlisted for the best debut collection

The Palestinian poet, writer, and journalist, Mohammed El-Kurd, who lives in Jerusalem, occupied Palestine, has been shortlisted for the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for his debut Rifqa, published by Chicago’s radical independent house Haymarket Books, part of the city’s non-profit Centre for Economic Research and Social Change.

El-Kurd is the Palestine correspondent for The Nation, the US weekly magazine covering progressive political and cultural news. Describing his book, Haymarket says: “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.”

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection is named after the British magazine publisher and poet who died in 2014. Rifqa joins four other titles on the shortlist. The Felix Dennis Prize is part of the Forward Prizes for poetry which includes Best Collection and Best Single Poem. The Forward Prizes are run the UK’s Forward Arts Foundation, a charity committed to widening the audience for poetry. The winners will be announced on 28 November.

Rifqa has received some glowing reviews. Adhaf Soueif, the author of The Map of Love, said: “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.”

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