At the 49th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam: Gihan Omar

Egyptian poet Gihan Omar is one of eighteen poets from around the world appearing at the 49th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam:

Omar, as Rania Khallaf wrote in Al Ahram Weekly, “stands deliberately aside from the literary Generation of the Nineties, to whom she technically (and, some might argue, aesthetically) belongs[.]”

Her published  collections include Walking Behind the Mirror (2013), Before We Hate Paulo Coelho (2007), and Light Feet (2004), and her poems have been translated into English, French, Bosnian, Romanian, Korean,Turkish, and German. Her Avant de Détester Paulo Coehlo was translated to French by Suzanne El Lackany. Her work also appears in Salt Boundaries, an anthology edited by Malak S. Soufi, translated by Nermin Nizar.

In an interview with Words Without Borders, Omar said you should read Egyptian writers:

Naguib Mahfouz, Bahaa Taher,  Alaa Khaled, Mansoura Ezz El Din, Yousef Rakha, Mustapha Zikri, and Mohamed Abdelnabi.

Poetry International Festival Rotterdam said she writes poetry out of necessity:

They write: “Gihan Omar believes writing poetry to be something that can only happen out of sheer necessity. For herself, she locates this necessity in experiences that have transformed her outlook on life and the world.”

Why she doesn’t read much poetry, from her talk with Rania Khallaf:

“I don’t read much poetry,” Omar, a graduate of Cairo University’s philosophy department, confesses. “I prefer novels and philosophy books. But I believe my poems are the result of assimilating many art forms.”

Why invoke Paulo Coehlo in her second collection?

According to Khallaf, “It is based on a true story, she explains: a poetess and her intimate companion, another Gihan — both were named after Egypt’s most controversial first lady, Gihan Sadat — realise that sharing a name cannot in itself sustain a friendship and having failed to follow (Coelho’s “alchemical”) signs, part ways. It ends on a harrowing note, when the narrator’s friend is strangled by an impoverished neighbour eager to steal her jewellery.”

“A Paper Dream,” tr. Nermin Nizar: