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Poet of the People

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Poet of the People

there's gonna be a lot of slow signin and flower bringin

Notorious BIG

The Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish died last week in a Texas hospital of complications from open-heart surgery. There are several tributes and obituaries running on line and in newspapers around the country. In the Arab world the news is on the front page; Darwish is dead, the people's poet gone.

From the AP there is a photo that ran in the Tribune of Darwish's funeral procession. Thousands of bodies swarming around the motorcade paying tribute to the life a poet whose work tributes their lives, making the invisible, visible, articulating the experience and pain of forced Diaspora, the beauty and struggle of the Palestinian people.

They threw him out of every port,
And took away his young beloved.
And then they said: You're a refugee.

Darwish spoke for himself, of his time and his people who are dispossessed and disenfranchised, secluded and segregated in their former homes, expelled and jailed, living in Apartheid. The world is filled with refugee's, and in Palestine, and the surrounding countries, Darwish spoke of the maintenance of hope, the brutality of loss; physical, familial and spiritual. For his courage to show the world the stories of those written out of history, to be witness and recorder, he was revered.

The masses who mourn, who this evening will read his work as memorial, who shiver at the familiarity of his prose, who gathered in the streets around his coffin to thank him for recognizing them, this adoration is not often associated with poets. However, the sea of bodies the cars in Darwish's funeral procession parted, did remind me of an American poet whose death was tragic, who words are still cherished in the mouths and ears of those he spoke for and about.

In March of 1997, Biggie Smalls was murdered in California. His body was brought home to Brooklyn and his wake poured through the streets on the way to the funeral home. Streets he used to sell crack on, then reported about the daily interactions and ethos of those who populated these forgotten or imagined neighborhoods, Biggie gave an unforgettable voice to; a deep, high, near lisp of compounded couplets, a husky, haunting truth-sayer:

If I wasn't in the rap game
I'd probably have a key knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you're slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot
Shit, it's hard being young from the slums
eatin five cent gums not knowin where your meals comin from

Both men, MCs, masters of craft and ceremony. During his final caravan, Biggie's Hypnotize blasted from a car stereo system or speakers hanging out a window, as if from no where, or heaven, as if he returned, and the Bed-Stuy streets turned joyous bedlam, a death march dance party for those who came to pay their respect.

And it is respect these orators had for the people they lived among and wrote about. An engaged poetic, realist portraiture of those on the margins of dominant narrative. Big and Darwish saw and sung the songs of the masses, thereby making their lives undeniable because they are on now on record. For this they are championed and embedded in popular memory; worn on the white tees of kids in every city in America, in the headphones eleven years later, in the mouths of many as hope and prayer. They are poets of the people because they are of the people and sought their recognition by recognizing the breadth of the lives of those who labor everyday, who wake and raise their family and put them to sleep in the quiet or disturbed and dis-ease of night. The solitary act of composition, translated and received by the masses made these poets more than lone recorders. They embraced and needed their words, as these men and their words embraced and needed them. Darwish writes:

And history makes fun of its victims
And its heroes
Takes a look at them and passes by
This sea is mine
This moist air is mine
And my name-
Even if I spell it wrong on the coffin -
Is mine
As for me,
Now that I am filled with all the possible
Reasons for departure -
I am not mine.
I am not mine
I am not mine...