Poetry is not dead
I walked down the steps into the basement of the Firdous Hotel on a Monday night to find a room thick with cigarette smoke. Glasses of Arak sat on nearly every table, the people around them deep in conversation or debate. Posters of Malcolm X and Ghandi adorn the rich, red walls; the case of an oud rests next to its player.
With my Western preconceptions, this scene is not something I expected to find in Syria. Yet it is one that is recreated every Monday evening for the weekly poetry night. Prominent poems are recited alongside personal compositions in both fus’ha (classical Arabic) and the dialect.
On this particular Monday, the assembled were graced with the presence of Ahmed Fouad Najm (أحمد فواد نجم). This distinguished Egyptian poet sat in the corner of the room with a glass of red wine before him, his hands folded in his lap, his forehead heavily creased below his thinning, silvery hair. He is revered by everybody present. When it is his turn to speak, the crowd seem to hang off his every word. He received the same adoration here that pop-stars receive back in Europe.