If You’re in NYC: Music and the Verse of Abul ‘Ala Al-Ma’ari

This Friday, September 13, NYC’s Alwan for the Arts will host a salon, led by Mohamed Alwan, on Abul ‘Ala Al-Ma’ari. There will also be music by the Alwan Ensemble in celebration of the classical poetry of Al-Ma’ari, Al-Hallaj, Abu Nawas and the Maqam:

562According to organizers:

This salon promises to be an enlightening evening of poetry and discussion with Iraqi-born Mohamed Alwan, who received his PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Indiana and taught at Georgetown, Harvard, and Tufts. The Alwan Ensemble accompanies this evening of poetics, delivering a transporting feast of well-loved songs, evoking the ambiances of Cairo, Baghdad, al-Quds and Aleppo, built around mesmerizing textures of rhythmic and improvisational intensity.

The Alwan ensemble includes George Ziadeh on ‘oud, vocals; Johnny Farraj on riqq, vocals; Zafer Tawil on qanun, violin, vocals; and Amir ElSaffar on santur, vocals. Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 students and seniors. More about tickets here.

Much has been written about al-Ma’ari; the Syrian poet has been translated here and there. His most well-known work, the Epistle of Forgiveness, ed. and trans. Geert Jan Van Gelder and Gregory Schoeler, is newly out from NYU Press.

I am generally not a fan of the translations that attempt rhyme schemes; I do particularly like Tarif Khalidi’s translation of al-Ma’ari’s “A Rain Cloud,” which appeared on the Angry Arab blog:

 A rain cloud
A rain cloud:
The sea had given its caravans to drink.
Once quenched, it took wing to high ground, jubilant.
But the king of the winds rose up to it with his troops,
And scattered it, unwilling, unfulfilled.
I wept for that cloud, having missed its quest,
Though neither its longing nor its passion was mine.
So too the nights:
They’re never generous when a creature pleads,
Never faithful to their promise.”