I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
This extended blog post on ArabLit includes reports and impressions on the Syria Speaks event at the South Bank Centre earlier this week from Nadia Ghanem and myself. The event featured Syrian poet Golan Haji, Aleppan novelist Nihad Sirees, and British-Syrian writer Robin Yassin-Kassab, and explored a whole range of issues around the connections between writing, politics and the human spirit. Despite my mild criticism in the post, this was an important event and a significant opportunity to hear from major Syrian writers, and it is a great pity that we don’t see more programmes like it, not just from Middle Eastern writers but from other poorly-understood parts of the world:
Reflecting on the relationship between literature and the Syrian uprising, Haji felt that, “I don’t think that a fragile thing like poetry can apply to political control. Later it can add beauty to the revolution – but not in a direct sense.” He noted the revival of martyrdom and revolution as poetic themes in work coming out of Syria, but claimed that “the history of poetry is the history of fragility – you address one person, not a crowd.” He made veiled criticisms of the Syrian poet Adonis and his failure to criticize the regime, despite having lived beyond its grasp for decades.
The full article is here.
The other observation I feel the need to share about this event was the utterly depressing comment I witnessed from some inbred, barely-out-of-his-teens scion of the British upper classes. This little creep, standing in the foyer afterwards, declared in patrician tones that the “whole thing” had been a “waste of time and [no doubt Daddy’s] money” because Golan Haji had pronounced a word wrong whilst reading out one of his poems. Missing the point doesn’t even begin to cover it. First up against the wall come the (British) revolution.