5 Poems by Ashjan al-Hendi and Other Ups and Downs from the 2015 Jeddah Book Fair

The international headline from this year’s Jeddah Book Fair has been a video of one of Saudi’s leading poets, Ashjan al-Hendi (@AshjanHendi), being verbally harrassed:

ashjanAl-Hendi, the author of several volumes of poetry and a collection of critical essays, was one of the headliners at this year’s Jeddah Book Fair, which opened December 12. While not as big as the Riyadh Book Fair, held each year in March, it’s still one of the major book events in the KSA.

Al-Hendi, an internationally recognized poet, represented Saudi Arabia at the UK’s “Poetry Parnassus” in 2012. The Southbank Centre called her self-translated poem “In Search of the Other” one of the 50 greatest love poems of the last half-century, a list al-Hendi made alongside towering poets like Iman Mersal and Amjad Nasser. Her work has not just been recognized in Arabic and English, but also translated into French, German, Spanish, and Turkish.

Enter the 2015 Jeddah Book Fair, from which there is a now-viral video of two men trying to shout down al-Hendi during her reading. The video shows not just the audience’s and organizers’ support in escorting a member of the religious police out of the room. It also shows a good-sized audience for poetry.

As the Saudi Gazette noted,”Saudis on social media expressed mixed reaction.”

One Twitter hashtag thanked the representative of the religious police for his “brave reaction” at the book fair while another trended under the title #نعم_يرضينا or “yes, we accept.”

During this year’s Riyadh book fair, the local Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (PVPV) shut down a seminar titled “Youth and Arts .. A Call for Coexistence.” According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), one of the speakers at the event denounced the destruction of monuments by ISIS, a denunciation that the Saudi PVPV considered “to be a defense of idols renounced in Islam.”

5 poems by al-Hendi:

“Grey Hair,” translated by Abdulla Al-Harrasi with Adrian Roscoe

“In Search of the Other,” translated by the author

“On Mute!”

“Butterflies,” trans. Issa J. Boullata

“A Couple,” trans. the author and Patty Paine

Confiscated or banned:

Al Masry Al Youm: 80 “Muslim Brotherhood” books banned

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information: ANHRI Condemns Jeddah Book Fair’s Closure of ACRPS Booth

Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim said on Facebook: his publisher informed him 350 copies of his book had been confiscated

Stats from the fair:

According to Arab News“A total of 25 countries with more than 440 international and national publishers under thousands of titles are participating in the 10-day event.” Also, “more than 260 young and new writers are participating in the book fair[.]”