All my life I’ve had luck I can’t even begin to account for, but this time it was just too much. I had the privilege of attending a poetic event in the Arab world. An unknown world, incidentally. A world awaiting discovery (on this end). And as if that weren’t enough, the invitation called on me to think of the impossible. An annual poetry event involving schools and poets, that invites young people and adults to share their poems with a mature and serious audience – and a joyous audience, pure as pure can be.
So, where to begin? Perhaps, with the fact that we’re thinking of something real when we think of poetry as a subject. Not as a vehicle for feelings or for redeeming tormented lives. Poetry is real – the poetry of every day, of every personal experience immersed in its own terms. That’s poetry. A personal and genuine look at a world that’s turning. And voices and words that are turning, while something is bringing things together, a feeling of community that’s not bent on war or competition, but just on sharing an experience, each person’s very own experience. That’s poetry.
It’s just one day a year, but it’s much more than that. A parade of worlds where the rules are all in place, yet no one’s enforcing them because it’s not a competition. Let me underline that: it’s not a competition. Poetry never has been and never will be a competition. These things come from somewhere else. That’s why nobody’s expecting to win, nobody’s expecting to outdo anyone else. The challenge is to look up and find someone else who’s different, similar, the same.
One day each year, one morning and one afternoon each year, students from different schools read their poems, and listen to poets from other countries and other regions who all share the same drive to communicate. And they become equal. The quest for meaning or no meaning becomes a banner, and here are all these people with their abilities, some with abilities that we in the West refer to as “different,” but this event has another name for them: “people with determination.” And that’s how it’s mapped out, it’s not their differences that show us who they are, but their similarities. And then we’re sure that this is something new. The East is telling us to rethink ourselves– or think less of ourselves.
With ideas ranging from dictionary trees to growing by putting down roots, the novelties of each performance enrich us, the rhythm of poetic cadences becomes deafening as it reminds us of what we’ve been forgetting (the very essence). How many poetic hearts are there living in our countries? Perhaps as many as there are residents, and yet in the unfolding of the present somehow we fail to see them. Because a poem is this. Because a poem is a lament. Because a poem is laughing so as not to cry, or the other way around. And at this event, thousands of kilometers from the safety of home (and the screen), we come face to face with uncertainty. Words. Words put in order. Words put in order by people who are disorderly. Or not. Words.
If I’m promised something new, I’ll show up. And while I was expecting something different, I didn’t know the half of it. This poetry event goes so far beyond what they say it is. Making sense of maturity and what’s poetic all at the same time is already more than enough. But understanding this and all its analogs is simply too vast from the git-go. If I were to give it a title, I’d call it “Poetic Heart,” because there’s nothing else to add. This is what the event is called, and this is how it calls out to us. At its ninth edition, we find ourselves among students, teachers and other kindred souls. So let us come together more often, because East and West are not as far apart as we thought. We’re much closer together. And so that’s the main challenge. Redrawing a map that brings us closer together, so we can look into others’ eyes and they can gaze into ours. With the attendance of so many eminent and unknown figures, the gathering is jammed. Interviews and music, poetry and literature. The heart is one, it has no structure. The heart is poetic or it isn’t.
Poetic Heart is held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with the selfless support of volunteers from many backgrounds, and all information, poems, compositions, presentations and texts are available here. It was born from the proposal of another poetic heart, that of Dr. Shihab Ghanem, a poet whom I had the good fortune and privilege to translate (which is how I crossed my first bridge), who, with the support of the Ikeda Foundation, is carrying forward this bold and ambitious project to create a space where we can discover the voice (as well as the rights) of those who are trying each day to make the world a safer place. Through poetry, through dreams. For all those other poetic hearts and other hearts that dare.
(Translated by Kevin Mathewson)