“Impossible Grace” Inspires First Al-Quds Composition Award
“Impossible Grace,” a poem written by Distinguished Professor Meena Alexander (English, Women’s Studies Certificate Program), has inspired the first Al-Quds Composition Award, to be presented by the newly established College of Music at Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution of higher learning with campuses in Jerusalem, Abu Dis, and al-Bireh.
Alexander wrote “Impossible Grace” while she was 2011 poet in residence at East Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University. “I was haunted by divisions in this city of golden stone and prayers, and the fact that some of the gates are shut to people, and all the soldiers there,” Alexander said, referring to ancient gates in Old Jerusalem, and Israel’s constant military presence. “And the almost impossible light that edges it all, the mystical Jerusalem.”
Selected by a panel of international composers and contemporary music experts, the winning composition will receive a prize purse of 1000 Euros and two public performances in Jerusalem in October under the artistic direction of Anke Rauthmann, director of the Berlin Lyric Opera. The goal of the award, which is supported this year by the Representative Office of the Federal Republic of Germany in Ramallah, is to encourage the creation of high quality chamber music that combines the human voice with elements of both Oriental and Western European musical traditions, thus celebrating the cultural uniqueness of the city of Jerusalem.
“What can I say? I am deeply touched and honored that my poem has found this other life,” says Alexander, already the author of six published volumes of poetry, including Illiterate Heart, a winner of the PEN Open Book Award. “As a poet one writes in such loneliness. So it feels like grace to find a reader or should I say listener, because poetry lives not only on the page but as sound, a sonic body, a shining body of sound.”
“Impossible Grace,” which has already been published in the United States in a literary journal TriQuarterly Online, will be part of a pamphlet of Alexander’s Jerusalem poems, to be published by Al-Quds University in conjunction with the winning composition’s October premiere. It will also be included in Birthplace with Buried Stones, to be published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.
— Text from English Program News. Graduate Center, City University of New York. 27 Aug. 2012 http://www.gc.cuny.edu/Page-Elements/Academics-Research-Centers-Initiatives/Doctoral-Programs/English/English-News/Detail?id=12774
Text of the Poem (From Birthplace with Buried Stones, 2013)
At Herod’s gate
I heap flowers in a crate
Poppies, moist lilies —
It’s dusk, I wait.
Wild iris —
The color of your eyes before you were born
That hard winter
And your mother brought you to Damascus gate.
My desire silent as a cloud,
It floats through New gate
Over the fists
Of the beardless boy-soldiers.
You stopped for me at Lion’s gate,
Feet wet with dew
From the torn flagstones
Love, I was forced to approach you
Through Dung Gate
My hands the color
Of the broken houses of Silwan.
At Zion’s gate I knelt and wept.
An old man, half lame —
He kept house in Raimon’s café,
Led me to the fountain.
At Golden gate,
Where rooftops ring with music,
I glimpse your face.
You have a coat of many colors — impossible grace.
(Meena Alexander. Birthplace with Buried Stones, 2013)
- “Music scores” by Maria Tupay Duque