Sunday, 31 October 2010
Yes, it’s Halloween, but it’s also nearly time for this year’sArab-focused London Poetry Festival. Spooooky!
British poet Fiona Sampson, a non-Arab who’s scheduled to appear at the festival, recently spoke withThe 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:
Saturday, 30 October 2010
I feel; the love of written word
I feel; the pulse of writing pen
I feel; the beats of thinking heart
i feel the words of thinking mind
I feel; the echo of spoken words
I feel; the call of shelved book
i feel; the need to ink the pages
i feel; to color the blank canvas
i feel; the urge to write more..
dedicated to @ShjIntlBookFair
Wednesday was an extraordinary day. The Sharjah International Book Fair is happening currently. In addition to hundreds of publishers and book vendors, this year they have visiting authors from around the world. I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear Samar Dahmash-Jarrah speak. She is a Kuwait born Palestinian and has lived in several of the Middle East countries. She’s an experienced journalist. When 9/11 happened she was living in the States. Even though she is a shy person, she felt it impossible not to speak up and clarify that not all Muslims hate America and not all Muslims are terrorists. This led to her doing a lot of public speaking and media interviews. She then embarked on a wonderful project in which she collected questions that Americans wanted to ask Arabs, then (self-funded) travelled to several Middle East countries and asked these questions of random Arabs she met. These questions and answers are published in her book – Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts (2005). I have yet to read this book, but I will. She is currently teaching an honors course at the University of Southern Florida and is using Facebook to connect her students with Arabs around the world to continue the conversation, if you will. Individuals talking to each other is the best way to take the fear out of the “stranger.” They are no longer strangers.
So, that was a really excellent day, but it got better. There are other authors in town for the book fair – Lisa Dempster (Australia), Zohra Saed & Sahar Muradi (Afghan/Americans), Marsha Qualey (Cairo), and Octavia Nasr (former CNN senior editor of Middle East affairs). So, the Twitter community had a tweetup, of course. Here we are:
(published from my iPad)
Dr. Naif Al Mutawa—creator of extremely successful comic series The 99—had long dreamt of creating comics. When he was in his twenties in his native Kuwait, he wrote and published his first two books. Both were in English.
He wrote in English, he said, because as a younger man—before he’d become exposed to Taha Hussein, Naguib Mahfouz, other greats—”Nothing really grabbed me; nothing was enjoyable [in Arabic].”
His first two books were relatively successful, he said. Then: “Book three got stopped [by censors] and I quit writing at the age of 27. Had I changed a few words, they would have allowed it.” But Al Mutawa was offended by the censorship and didn’t want to change a few words. So “I quit.”
Al Mutawa, who spoke last night to a meager but enthusiastic crowd at the Sharjah International Book Fair, came down firmly against censorship:
In the name of preserving culture, book censorship is really killing it. … People interested in culture are gravitating toward English.
Al Mutawa didn’t mention the wave of censorship that hit the Kuwait book fair earlier this month, but he did say that his home town’s literary festival was the “one book fair” that hasn’t invited him for a visit. (I imagine there are a few in Wyoming and Lichtenstein who’ve also missed out, but take his point.)
Al Mutawa talked about how he later had come to create The 99. At first he resisted the idea, as “I have all these degrees, I’m not going back to writing for children.” But he eventually gave in, and brought his psychologist’s-eye view to the story-creation process:
A good story has a fit. There’s something there inside us already… We’re already wired for it.
He was particularly interested in archetypes and essences:
I believe strongly that if you boil down things to their symbolic level, nobody will disagree with them.
Award-winning graphic novelist Qais Sedki also spoke on the panel last night at the Sharjah Book Fest, and I write more about that over at Read Kutub Kids.
And: In the audience last night, I came across the two main architects of the region’s first ComicCon, set to be held in Abu Dhabi next March. These two guys were brimming—almost brimming over, really—with energy and information, and ISA I’ll pump them for more about science fiction and fantasy novels coming soon in Arabic, new Arabic comics and graphic novels, as well as more details about the upcoming ComicCon.
For those of you who are aspiring graphic novelists or comic-book authors (as you prefer), the ComicCon pair also promises to have practical workshops to help you structure, finalize, polish, finance, and market your work.