The Poetry of Revolution

A banner that reads 'Leave!' during protests in Tahrir Square last month in Cairo. Image via WikiCommons

A banner that reads 'Leave!' during protests in Tahrir Square last month in Cairo. Image via WikiCommons

While the ripples of a 24-year-old Tunisian grocer’s self-immolation continue to extend across the Middle East, we were reminded of the role that poetry played - in sung and spoken form - in the Egyptian crisis. There’s been some excellent coverage on the topic, such as here, here, here and here. Of course, protest poetry and song are not exclusive to the Middle East - here’s a piece on the role song played during the Freedom Rides.

Readers familiar with the Middle East may have noticed how passionate many in the region tend to be about their verse. The Quran is prized for its poetic qualities, and many of the languages of the region have rich literary traditions - not least among them Arabic and Persian. It is not uncommon for someone to be able to recite a host of poems from memory, and conversation is frequently peppered with poetic allusions. In Abu Dhabi, there’s even a television show based on the ‘American Idol’ format called ‘The Prince of Poets’. Rather than singing or dancing, contestants write and recite poems.

Thursday’s Talking Point at the Wheeler Centre will be on the topic, ‘Egypt and Beyond’.

Update: here’s a link to an article on the invisibility of Arabic literature - “Given the importance of the Arabic language in the world (320 million estimated speakers), the fact that this literature is still considered as marginal is unsettling. International publishers may be curious about this literature, but they rarely go as far as acquiring rights. This makes you wonder whether it is the quality of the Arabic literature that is at stake, or if there are external reasons to its marginalization.”

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