A rather moving event last night, with our old friend Iyad Hayatleh – the Palestinian exile poet. This is a man who has bargained with destiny in good faith (to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut), and resisted the temptation to give in to bitterness and hatred during the struggle for his family to regain their right of return to their homeland.
Over the years, “home” has acquired a uniquely metaphysical quality for Iyad; something of the heart and mind, rather than soil and bricks. Recent events in Syria (his family’s origin), and the failure of the Arab Spring, have been a source of great sadness for Iyad; as was the unexpected death last summer of his beloved wife, Lamees Tayyem (also a tireless campaigner for the rights of refugees).
Nonetheless, with three sons here in Scotland, Iyad tells us that he has come to view Glasgow as his home – and we are enormously honoured by that sentiment.
The plight of refugees everywhere, and of those in displacement camps in the Middle East in particular, is a story constantly in danger of slipping out of the news as the world turns a fickle eye. But the suffering of those concerned does not cease merely because it is unheard. Iyad’s poetry bears witness to this unending narrative and, supported by his faith, he retains optimism and generosity of spirit in the face of adversity.
Truly great poetry is always born from this kind of compassion and intensity. To hear Iyad speak in Arabic is always an extraordinarily mesmeric experience – like watching waves of sand blow across a desert landscape.