Yes, it’s Halloween, but it’s also nearly time for this year’s Arab-focused London Poetry Festival. Spooooky!
British poet Fiona Sampson, a non-Arab who’s scheduled to appear at the festival, recently spoke with The National about how she perceives attitudes toward poetry in Britain vs. in the Arabic-listening world. (Her take: In the Arab world poetry’s central; in the British world it’s seen as “the most flowery and the least responsible” of the genres.)
I agree that, yes, poetry has traditionally been the “diwan of the Arabs,” and, yep, Mahmoud Darwish did pack stadiums. But—while I don’t agree with critic Rasheed al-Enany that poetry and fiction have completely switched places in the Arabic soul—poetry, particularly modernist or “prose poetry,” is commanding less attention.
For instance, the big new lit prize, the “Arabic Booker,” is for fiction, not poetry. And most of the writers in the Beirut39 collection were represented by their prose.
That’s only some places, mind you. In the media room at the Sharjah International Book Fair, reporters were most keen on the evening poetry events. And, of course, the Million’s Poet show still attracts millions of viewers.
Sampson, clearly a fan of Arabic poetry, called it “much more flexible” than English poetry. She told The National that even when (good) Arabic poetry is not read in the original language, “so much survives the process of translation. There’s still something very evocative and strong there.” I’d like to stick another “good” in before the word translation.
Among the poets who’ll be reading at the London Poetry Festival are Nujoom al Ghanem, Fadhil Al Azzawi, Suheir Hammad, Mourid and Tamim Barghouti, Adonis, and others. (Find a fuller rundown here.)
There are also non-Arabs, of course, including English writer Simon Armitage and the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
People who might attend and write about events as they happen:
- London-based poet and blogger Ghazi Gheblawi ?
- Whoever writes for the Southbank Centre’s twitter feed ?
- Another Southbank Centre tweeter, @litweeter ?