A distinct group has recently become public at the University; The Diwan Arabic Poetry Club is not new, but met last night for its first public appearance. A group of University students and professors, not only Arabs, but those interested in the Arabic language, have been meeting for more than a year now to enjoy the treasures and poetics of this remarkable language.

Paula Santillan Grimm, a University graduate student commented, “Throughout my study of Arabic, I have met warm, enchanting people, seen amazing sites, had 1000 and one adventures and haggled for many more taxi rides. Today I feel lucky because I am able to enjoy wonderful Arabic poetry, yet even without understanding all of it.”

Last night’s gathering featured recitations in Arabic, with English translations, of specially selected works of Arab poets Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine), Badr Shakr Al-Sayyab (Iraq), and Khalil Hawi (Lebanon). “The three featured poets tonight represent, each in his own way, three different and distinct mappings of the modern Arab poet’s experience. Two are no longer with us, but have left behind a very detailed, intricate and articulate guide to their respective worlds, in Iraq and Lebanon,” said Prof. Anton Shammas of the Near Eastern Studies Department.

One of the goals of this group is to introduce to the public one vivid aspect of Arab culture. Poetry is one of the most important facets that identify the Arabs as a distinct civilization. This literature depicts most clearly the history of Arabs by grasping the ideals and images of customs, traditions, and values.

The first known poems of the Arabian Peninsula are found in the form of a long ode, called a qasida. Often times these poems speak of the desert, an abandoned campsite, animals such as the horse and camel, tribes, hunting scenes, journeys and death. A bit later, a form known as a ghazal, emerged to reflect aspects of love. Oftentimes these poems speak of forbidden love which defied accordance with cultural boundaries of courtship.

“Arabic poetry has been an indispensable manifestation of Arab culture for more than 15 centuries. It reflects the historical, social, political, philosophical and literary developments and achievements of Arabs,” said Khaled Al-Masri, a PhD student of Arabic Literature in the Near Eastern Studies department.

Originally, a storyteller would memorize and recite poetry at public gatherings, much like members of Diwan presented last night. Arabic poetry still attracts large audiences in the prominent, public spaces throughout the Arab world.

“Emerging in the second half of the 20th century in Iraq, contemporary Arabic poetry quickly spread and gained its distinct characteristics under some influence of the legacy of Arabic literature and the modern literary trends of the West. The ramifications of the Palestinian Cause, resisting colonialism and dictatorships, freedom, social justice, and alienation are among other central themes in modern Arabic poetry,” stated Al-Masri.

Mahmoud Darwish is regarded as one of the greatest contemporary Arab poets today. His continuously inventive style still captures scholars and the common reader from various backgrounds. Commenting on this renowned poet, Prof. Shammas stated, “Darwish, is the closest to my Palestinian heart. For more than three decades he managed, probably more than any other Arab or Palestinian writer, to keep Palestine a resonating, constant presence. We will always know that there are at least two maps of Palestine that self-proclaimed politicians will never manage to forfeit: the one in the memories of Palestinian refugees, and the one drawn by Darwish’s poetry.”

Diwan hopes to develop bi-weekly gatherings in which students, professors and members of the community can partake. The group plans to invite prominent scholars and poets to read and reflect on various aspects of modern Arabic poetry in the future.

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