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The Neverfield Poem by Nathalie Handal. Sausalito. 1999. Post-Apollo Press. 57 pages. paperback. Cover by The Set Up, London. 0942996356.

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

   ‘The Neverfield is a work which insists on itself. It is poetry of a shining quality from a poet whose voice is sure and unafraid.’ - Lucille Clifton. ‘The Neverfield is an epic journey, a passionate search for beauty and truth. If beauty is truth, and truth is beauty, the poems in this volume lead us once again to that realization. The Neverfield is an enchanting work, sharing with us a poet’s true vision.’ - Rudolfo Anaya. ‘Nathalie Handal’s poems in her collection The Neverfield are wide as breath, lyrically Linked as an elegantly stitched Palestinian bodice, and dreamily, deeply evocative as the stories that never leave us from the first time we hear them.’ - Naomi Shihab Nye. ‘As I turned the pages of this work, I was reminded of how vast the universe is. The Neverfield is everlasting by nature. After reading it, I breathed deeply and praised the word. This is a holistic piece of work.’ - Benjamin Zephaniah.

 

  Nathalie Handal (born 29 July 1969) is an American award-winning poet, writer, and playwright. Nathalie Handal was born in Haiti to parents of Palestinian descent, and grew up in Pétionville. Having also lived in Europe, the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the writer-poet-playwright is acutely aware of the commonality of the human experience and of the fact that ‘we don't exist in the jointed way that we should.’ She feels this most in the US's ‘material consumerist society,’ while in places like Africa and Latin America political unrest and a certain type of hardship forces you to look outside, beyond ourselves and the small space we live in. ‘Today I feel deeply connected to the world. Yes, I am Palestinian, but I am also French, Latina, and American.’ The cadence of Nathalie Handal’s voice resembles her nomadic life. ‘I don’t have a mother tongue. I grew up speaking many languages, and these different languages have slipped into my English. My English is cross-fertilized with French, Spanish, Arabic, Creole….I love the idea of a bridge of words, a bridge of poems connecting us….showing us what it’s like to be human,’ she says. Her voice has the mellifluous tinge of a French accent, due to her upbringing in her native Haiti where French is the official language, and maintained with her residence in Paris. She earned a MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College, Vermont and a MPhil in English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London. She visited Bethlehem for the first time as a teenager. She became interested in the writing of Arab women in the 1990s. She has residences in both New York City and Paris. Handal is the author of four books of poetry, several plays and the editor of two anthologies. She is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, a Fundación Araguaney Fellow, recipient of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature 2011, the AE Ventures Fellowship, an Honored Finalist for the 2009 Gift of Freedom Award, and was shortlisted for New London Writers Awards and The Arts Council of England Writers Awards. She has also been involved as a writer, director, or producer in over twelve theatrical or film productions. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, such as The Guardian, World Literature Today, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetrywales, Ploughshares, Poetry New Zealand, Crab Orchard Review, and The Literary Review; and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. She was the featured poet in the PBS NewsHour on April 20, 2009. Her book The Lives of Rain was shortlisted for the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and received the Menada Literary Award. Her latest poetry book, Love and Strange Horses, is the winner of the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY Award), and an Honorable Mention at the San Francisco Book Festival and the New England Book Festival. Poet in Andalucía (2012) consists of ‘poems of depth and weight, and the sorrowing song of longing and resolve.’ Handal has promoted international literature through translation and research, and edited The Poetry of Arab Women, an anthology that introduced several Arab women poets to a wider audience in the West and is used in university classes around the U.S. It was an Academy of American Poets bestseller and won the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. She co-edited along with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar the anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. She was Picador Guest Professor at Leipzig University, Germany, and is currently teaching a translation workshop at Columbia University and part of the Low-Residency MFA faculty at Sierra Nevada College. Handal wrote a blog in 2010 called ‘The City and The Writer’, for the online magazine Words Without Borders. She has also written a piece based upon a book of the King James Bible as part of the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty-Six Books. Handal writes in English, but uses Arabic, French and Spanish phrases in conversation. Her story ‘Umm Kulthoum at Midnight’ was described as a ‘daring and sensual story about the hypocrisies underlying Arabic morals and traditions.’ In her collection Poet in Andalucía she goes back to Islamic Spain where she believes Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in relative harmony and the fates of Jews and Muslims were similar. In an interview in 2001, Handal said that since ‘many Israelis and Palestinians interact on a daily basis’ this makes ‘them no longer strangers to each other. They know each other, even if often they do not agree with each other. There are many similarities between the two people.’ She continued, and said that ‘however, for many Jewish-Americans, Palestinians are ‘the Other.’ [Jewish-Americans] often do not realize how closely linked the two people are.’ Since January 12, 2010, Haiti has been an open wound. Her visit on February 21, 2011, 25 years since being in Haiti (except for two brief entrances), a young girl at the time was seemingly exempt from the turmoil that led to the overthrow of Baby Doc and the chaotic aftermath of his regime. Remembering her youth in Haiti brought up images of hopscotch in school courtyards, of school uniforms, of eating mangoes and drinking fresco (ice with flavored syrup) in Pétionville. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank reported that before the earthquake nearly half the school-age children did not go to school, only one-fifth of teachers had any pedagogical training, three-quarters of schools were unaccredited, and more than half lacked running water. The earthquake destroyed 5,213 schools (4,820 in the West, 154 in Nippes, and 239 in the South-East). Before the earthquake, Handal wrote a poem about her experience in Haiti entitled, The Cry of Flesh, where she writes about the island, its struggles but yet its rich culture and mentions musician Sweet Mickey dancing in the streets of Port-au-Prince, whose real name is Michel Martelly, the former compas musician and the current President of Haiti.

 

 

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