‘100 Thousand Poets for Change’ Events Across the Region

Last year, the first “100 Thousand Poets for Change” event took place on September 24. In 2011, there were 650 events in 550 cities — including multiple events in Cairo, Sharjah, Alexandria, and Fes.

This year, at least eight Arab countries are sponsoring “100 Thousand Poets for Change” readings, with Egypt perhaps the most active partner. The readings (and musical performances, and mime shows) are set for September 29. Events thus far have been scheduled in Algeria , Lebanon , Morocco  (Fes, Agadir, and Rabat), Oman , Sudan , Tunisia  (Moulares and Ariana), the UAE  (two events in Sharjah), Yemen, and Egypt (Cairo, Assiut, Gharbia, and Port Said).

What sort of “change” is 100TPC talking about? That’s up to local organizers. Founders Michael Rothernberg and Terri Carrion write on the 100TPC website that they just want local events to envision change “within the guidelines of peace and sustainability.”

Rothenberg, who was at last year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, spoke passionately about the poet’s role in society. At the time, Rothenberg was hoping that, just as political uprisings in North Africa, the Gulf, and the Levant had (perhaps briefly) inspired a new political genre in the U.S., they might also inspire new poetic movements.

Rothenberg said that, after the ‘60s and ‘70s, Anglo poetry was divested of its central role in cultural dialogue and debate. But now, he believed, self esteem is returning to these other poetries, and “the sense of the poet’s role in society.”

Of course, recent events have also caused poets to reflect on what it means to be “political,” and how “political poetry” can in some ways shackle poets to a particular aesthetic and a particular line of thought. In any event, it will be an interesting night to be out among the poets.


  1. Per Roethenburg’s comment that “Anglo ” poetry was less “political” after the seventies, I beg to differ. I could call up MANY names, but I will throw out a few: Martin Espada, Marilyn Hacker, Robert Haas, Phillip Levine, the later work of the incomparable Tom McGrath Cornelius Eady (check out his book of poems Brutal Imaginatiion), Mariilyn Nelson, Doug Anderson, and many many others. Maybe some of these “pundits” and well-meaning self appointed spokespersons should try reading beyond the New York Review of Books and APW recommendations. And this is not even adding the many poets published in small presses!!!!!!!

  2. The deep deep world of Middle East Poetry provides many examples of “political poets” who do not lose their poetry in political rhetoric ( as has happened in many countries, especiallly, at times, in the United States (I know this well, having written many such well-intentined but mediocre poems myself). But the models of Middle Eastern poets, WORLD CLASS poets would include: the inimicables: Mahmoud Darwish Samir Al Qasim, Nazar Quabbani,Mohammed Al- Maghut, Nathalie Handal (if only her first two books), and Adonis. And that’s just for starters (I am still reading and exploring so if anyone has recommendations please let me know).
    One of the better expressions Mao Tse Tung ( a very controversial figure and a fairly traditional and staid poet himselfl) once said was: Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom, Let A Thousand Schools of Thought Contend ( too bad he didnt allow the Talk to become The Walk). Also, I want to throw to folks the idea that in the last forty years, the short story has blossomed in the Middle East. There are some FANTASTIC short story writers who have the uncanny ability to write topflight stories in 3-5 pages. These folks are led by the remarkable Zakaria Tamer ( The Hedgehog and Other Stories ( The Hedgehog nouvellal added to his earlier collection from Quartet- Tigers On The Tenth Day) and Breaking Knees (Garnett).. Other very fine short story collections include They Die Strangers by Mohammed bdul Wali (Yemen), Dubai Tales by Mohammed El-Murr (Dubai), The Madman of Freedom Square by Hassan Blasim ( Iraq), and some earlier works, The Distant Minaret by Alica Riffat (Egypt), the immortal Palestine’s Children by Ghassan Kanafani (also his collections All That’s Left To You and Men In The Sun, Naguib Mahfouz’ Seventh Heaven (and The Time and The Place), and the very fine anthology Oranges In The Sun:: Short Stories From the Arabian Gulf. And let’s not forget the topflight anthology compiled by Denys Johnson-Davies: The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction. And if you dont have much time and are wondering which of these sto pick, I’d start with Tamer’s The Hedgehog and Other Stories, Blassim’s Madman of Freedom Square, Kanafani’s Palestine’s Children, and the two anthologies. Enjoy!!!!

  3. I forgot to add Woman in Their Apartments by Assia Djebar ( are we including Arab writers who write in French ( particularly those from the Magreb?

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