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« on: Oct 22, 2008 11:46 PM »


Hailed as the next Mahmoud Darwish.


Interesting article about a poetry show he was on:



 
The Prince of Poets: Arab Poetry’s Answer to American Idol


Imagine an American TV network deciding to take the American Idol format and apply it to poetry; lining up poets to read their poems in front of temperamental judges while the nation gets out its mobile phones to vote for its favorite poet. One can be sure the show would not survive the first commercial break before the chastened executives pull the plug on it and replace it with yet another series on the Life and Times of Nicole Ritchie. Yet, that was exactly the formula for the latest TV sensation to take Arab countries by storm.

Perhaps the only thing that is as hard as translating Arab poetry to other languages is trying to explain to non-Arabs the extent of poetry’s popularity, importance and Arabs’ strong attachment to it. Whereas poetry in America has been largely reduced to a ceremonial eccentricity that survives thanks to grants and subsidies from fanatics who care about it too much, in the Arab world it remains amongst the most popular forms of both literature and entertainment. Whereas America’s top poets may struggle to fill a small Barnes & Noble store for a reading, Palestine’s Mahmoud Darwish has filled football stadiums with thousands of fans eager to hear his unique recital of his powerful poems. And while in America a good poetry collection can expect to sell some 2,000 copies, in the Arab world the poems of pre-Islamic era poets are still widely read today in their original words, as are those from the different Islamic eras leading to the present. The late Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani had a cult following across the Arab world, and his romantic poems have for decades constituted standard covert currency between lovers.

The Arab World has had its own enormously successful pop music answer to American Idol in Superstar which has concluded its fourth season with resounding success, unearthing some real stars of today’s thriving Arabic cheesy pop scene. But a few months ago, the governors of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi took a bold move by organizing a similar contest for poets. This comes as another step in Abu Dhabi’s ambitious attempts to use its petro-dollars to transform itself into the capital of Arab culture, and one of the world’s leading cultural centers; a Florence to Dubai’s London.

The show, named Prince of Poets, was an enormous success. Some 4,000 poets from across the Arab world sent in submissions to be considered. 35 were chosen for the show, and millions of viewers from across the Arab world tuned in to watch them recite their poetry, get criticized by Arab poetry’s answer to Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson (5 older poets and professors), improvise verses on the spot, and address wide-ranging issues from women’s rights, Iraq, love, democratization, Palestine and the old staple of Arab poetry: self-aggrandization. The winner would not only gain fame, but also a grand prize of 1,000,000 UAE Dirhams ($270,000).

The success of the show was wilder than anyone could’ve expected. The Arab press has had reports about how it has achieved the highest ratings in its spot, overtaking football matches and reality-TV; and millions have paid for text messages to vote for their favorite poet.

The turning point in the show’s popularity, many have speculated, came when young Palestinian poet, Tamim Al-Barghouti, read his poem “In Jerusalem“. Tamim, who is a distant cousin and close friend of mine, is the son of famous Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Al-Barghouti (author of the excellent I Saw Ramallah) and Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour. Tamim’s charisma, poetry, personality and politics captured the imagination of the Arab world. A veteran of years of student political activism in Palestine and Egypt, Tamim was once deported from Egypt by the authorities after engaging in one too many anti-Iraq War protests for the liking of Egypt’s regime. He then moved to America where he completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at Boston University in only three years, before working for the United Nations in Sudan. Through all of this, he has managed to publish four collections of poetry that have received critical acclaim and is expanding his Ph.D. thesis into a book on political identity in the Middle East to be published in 2008. He is now headed to Germany to become a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study.

 

While many contestants opted away from talking about politics in their poems, hoping to not cause any grievance to the generous leaders of the United Arab Emirates who are hosting this show, or to any of the other Arab leaders, Tamim’s poetry was almost entirely political. Whether it was about Palestine, Iraq, or Arab dictatorships, Tamim was as courageous as he was eloquent, raising a few eyebrows in the quiet Emirate where discussing regional politics is not considered the wisest choice of discussion topic.

“In Jerusalem” is a poetic diary of Tamim’s last visit to his land’s occupied capital; a sad traverse through its occupied streets defiled by the occupation soldiers and the illegal settlers living on stolen Palestinian land, and around the apartheid walls choking the city with their racist denial of Palestinians’ basic freedoms and rights. Nonetheless, the poem ends on a cheery and optimistic tone, leading to the jubilant excitement with which the Arab world enjoyed the poem.

Palestinian newspapers have dubbed Tamim The Poet of Al-Aqsa; his posters hang on the streets of Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities, where key-chains are being sold with his picture on them. Sections of the poem have even become ring-tones blaring out from mobile phones across the Arab World, and 10-year-old kids compete in memorizing and reciting it. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen Tamim’s poems on Youtube and other video websites.

But perhaps Tamim’s most amazing feat was how he has galvanized all Palestinians into following him and supporting him. After all of the troubles that Palestine has been through recently, and all the divisions that have been spawned within the Palestinian people, it was very refreshing to finally find something that unequivocally unites all Palestinians, and rouses millions of Arabs behind the cause that was tarred recently by the actions of some Palestinians.

This unifying effect was most glaringly captured when the TV stations of both Hamas and Fatah threw their support behind the unsuspecting Tamim, broadcasting his poems repeatedly, and urging people to vote for him, catapulting him from a little known young poet into a symbol of national resistance and unity. Finally, after months of divisions amongst Palestinians, there was something uniting them: a reminder of the true essence of the cause of the Palestinians, of the real problem, the real enemies and the real need for unity to face these challenges for the sake of Palestinian people and their just cause.

All of which made the final result of the contest most surprising. After having consistently received the highest ranking from the viewers’ votes and the unanimous flattery of the judges, and after a barn-storming flawless last poem that had the judges gushing, Tamim ended up in fifth place out of the five finalists. The poetess that was expected to most strongly challenge Tamim, the Sudanese Rawda Al-Hajj, who had focused her poems on women’s empowerment, finished fourth. The winner, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Abdulkareem Maatouk, a poet from the host country, the United Arab Emirates, whose poems had steered clear of anything political or controversial.

Though Tamim refused to comment, speculation was rife that the results were rigged. That Tamim and Rawda, widely viewed as the two best poets, would finish bottom of the finalists was certainly implausible, and one could not help but imagine that politics came into play. Abu Dhabi may want to fashion itself as the capital of culture, but it probably values its political stability more than any cultural pretenses. Arab regimes may have behaved like warring tribes with narrow self-interest over the past century, but there is one thing in which their cooperation was always exemplary: the effective suppression of all voices of dissent. As the contest became more popular, and the crown of the Prince of Poets more prestigious, it may have become too hard for the organizers to accept giving the trophy to a Palestinian rabble-rouser who in one of his poems bemoaned the times that have “degraded the free amongst us, and made scoundrels into our rulers.”

Nonetheless, there is no doubt who the real winner was; it was not just Tamim and his poetry which will now rival Mahmoud Darwish’s as the voice of the Palestinians, but also the Palestinian people who were reminded of the meaning of their unity, and their cause, which has found its best advertisement that has strengthened the mutual affection, dedication and support of millions of Arabs in the midst of one of its darkest hours.
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« Reply #1 on: Oct 22, 2008 11:48 PM »

Arabic text from his website: http://tamimbarghouti.net/Tamimweb/Arabic/poetry/3arabiyyafusha/filquds.htm

Reciting the poem live:



Al-Quds “In Jerusalem”
by Tamim Al-Barghouti.



By our lover's house we passed but we were turned away…
By the enemy's laws and walls
A blessing it could be for me I said…
When you see it, what do you see?
What you cannot bear is what you see…
When from the side of the road its houses appear…
When every soul sees its lover …
And every absentee surrenders to happiness…
To see him before their meeting is her secret as much as it is his…
Even her happiness does not give her safety…
When old Al-Quds you see once…
When the eye shall see it, where ever it turns the eye shall see it…
In Al-Quds… a cabbage vender from Georgia…
Tiring of his wife… a holiday he plans or his walls he shall paint…
In Al-Quds a Torah and an old man from upper Manhattan did come…
Its codes and rules a Polish kid teaches…
In Al-Quds an Abyssinian policeman closes a road in the market…
A machinegun on a twenty years old settler’s shoulder is carried…
A skullcap greeting the Wailing Wall…
Blond European tourists, Al-Quds they never see…
Photos they take for each other or with a reddish woman vender…
In Al-Quds soldiers with their boots as if over the clouds they creep…
In Al-Quds on the asphalt we prayed…
In Al-Quds. Others are in Al-Quds, except you…

History stirred at me smiling…
To see somebody else or err you thought???
Here they are facing you, they are the writing, and you are the margin …
O son... a veil you thought your visit from city’s face you shall remove…
To see from under it the hard reality of Al-Quds…

In Al-Quds everybody is there except you…
The city’s epoch is two epochs…
A foreign epoch steps in tranquilly, it doesn’t change…
As if in sleep it is walking…
And there is another one, latent and veiled…
Avoiding the foreign it is without sound walking…
Al-Quds knows itself…
Ask any creature, and then all shall indulge you…
With a tongue everything in the city is, when you ask it shall disclose…
In Al-Quds the crescent is like an embryo more vaulting it becomes…
Hunched-like it rests over domes…
Through the years relations developed…
The father’s relations with his children…
In Al-Quds buildings’ stones are citations from the Koran and the Gospels…
In Al-Quds beauty’s identification is octagonal and blue…

A golden dome looking like a curved mirror on top of it…
Synopsized in it you see the sky’s face…
Coddled and brought near…
Distributed like relief bags for the needy under siege…
After the Friday sermon of a people
For help open their hands…
In Al-Quds the sky got mixed with the people, we protect it, it protects us…
On our shoulders we always carry it…
If time aggrieves its moons…
In Al-Quds as if like smoke is the texture of the swarthy marble pillars…
Overtops mosques, churches and windows…
The morning’s hand it holds to show its colored engraving…
He says: “no it is like this”…
She replies: “no like this it is”…
If disagreement lengthy it becomes… they partake…
Because outside the threshold the morning is free…
But to enter if he wants, he has to accept God’s judgment…

In Al-Quds a school there is for a Mamluke* from beyond the river he came…
In an Asfahan slave market they sold him…
To a Baghdadi merchant…
To Aleppo he came, its amir frightened he became of the blueness in his left eye…
To a caravan going to Egypt he was given…
To become years later the Mongol’s defeater and the sultan…

In Al-Quds a smell there is, which establishes Babylon and India in a perfumer’s shop…
By God a language it has, you will understand if you listen…
And it tells me when tear gas bombs they shoot at me: “Don’t worry…”
Defused it gets when the smell of the gas wanes to tell me: “Did you see”…
In Al-Quds contradictions and miracles at ease it becomes and God’s people won’t deny…
As if cloth pieces new and old they check…
Wonders there by the hand are felt…
In Al-Quds an old man’s hand you shake…
Or a building you touch…
A poem or two, you, the son of the noble, on your hand palms you shall find incised…
In Al-Quds in spite of the chain of nakabat (tragedies) a smell of childhood there is in the wind…
The wind of innocence…
In the wind between two bullets, pigeons you shall see flying announcing a state …

In Al-Quds graves arrayed in lines they are, as if lines they are in the city’s history and the book is its soil…
Everybody passed from here…
Al-Quds accepts anybody who visits it whether infidel or believer he is…
In it I pass and its tombstones I read in all the world’s languages…
In it there is African, European, Kafjaks, Syklabs, Bushnaks, Tartars, Turks, and God’s peoples.
The doomed, the poor, landlords, the dissolute, and hermits…
In it there is whoever treaded on the earth…
Do you think it could hardly provide us alone with living???

O you history writer what happened to exclude us alone…
You old man, again reread and rewrite… mistakes you committed…
The eye shuts and opens…
Left wise the yellow car driver turned…
Away from Al-Quds’ gate…
Al-Quds we bypassed…
The eye sees it in the right mirror…
Its colors changed before sunset…
If a smile surprises me...
How it sneaked in between tears I don’t know, she told me when I went far too far…
“You weeper behind the wall… fatuous you are?
Are you mad… Your eye shouldn’t cry, you forgotten one from the book’s text…
You Arab your eye shouldn’t cry… You should know that…
In Al-Quds, all mankind is in Al-Quds but I see nobody in Al-Quds except you…”

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 07, 2010 06:26 AM »

Gift

My life is a gift

Given to me

On my zero birthday.

Today I pulled out the ribbon,

Unwrapped the Box

And found lots of things,

Ordinary,

But also wonder-full:

A watch of gold,

And of gold

Is every hour in one’s life;

A jack-in-the box

Which makes you laugh

Or scares you to death, it depends;

Two beautiful baby-dolls,

The first a toy,

The second is not;

A prisoner’s crown and the shackles of a king;

I also found a Jack of Spades

You turn him upside down

He stays the same;

I found books;

I found a long video tape labeled

‘Fifty years of conflict between the Zionists and the Arabs’;

I found hell in an inkpot,

And heaven in an inkpot too;

I found an Arab horse on a race track

Covered with glue;

I found a stove with no flames;

At the bottom of the box,

I found a white card with my name on it,

The rest has not yet been written.

...

I did not know what to do with all these things!

Oh, God, thank you,

But why the trouble?

...

I put them all back in the box,

I closed it,

Wrapped it,

Tied the ribbon,

I threw it skywards and up it went,

The gift turned into a host of flying doves

That I will follow forever.

Why did I do that?

I really do not know!
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