Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And to think, WE were there....

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2007, pages 55-56

Music & Arts

Arab Poets Perform at San Francisco International Poetry Festival

Palestinian poet Hanan Awwad (c) flashes a victory sign as fellow poets Sharon Doubiago (l) and Jack Hirschman applaud (Staff photo S. Powell).

THE SAN Francisco International Poetry Festival—Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman’s contribution to the active San Francisco arts scene—took place from July 26-29 in various venues around the city. Dozens of poets from around the world participated, including many from the Arab world and Middle East.

The festival kicked off with a ceremony hosted by former poet laureate and famed publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in (Jack) Kerouac Alley just outside Ferlinghetti’s legendary City Lights bookstore. Jorge Molina opened the festival with traditional and contemporary indigenous chants and spoken word, and the Pete Yellin Quartet provided music.

The July 27 reading at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre was hosted by another former poet laureate, Janice Mirkitani, who had spent part of her WWII childhood in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese citizens. Sabah M. Jasim of Iraq moved the audience as one of the performers.

The festival continued the next day with smaller readings at local public libraries and another major performance at the Palace of Fine Arts. Hosted by yet another of San Francisco’s poet laureates, devorah major (who does not capitalize her name), the performers included PEN director Hanan Awwad of Palestine; Israel’s Aharon Shabtai, the widower of author and activist Tanya Reinhart; Adonis Prize-winner Maram Al Masri of Syria; and host Hirschman. Among Awwad’s poems was a tribute to former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Similarly, Shabtai’s work was highly political, addressing such issues as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the annexation wall. Al Masri brought down the house with her deeply sensual and sometimes disturbing love poems.

The North Beach Poetry Crawl closed the festival in style, as poets and audiences traversed historic and modern poetic landmarks in the North Beach district of San Francisco. International poets read in their native languages, while local poets read translations. The hugely successful event presented significant world poetry, much of it with a progressive political message, and set a high bar for the city’s next poet laureate.

Sara Powell

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