This week I’m particularly thrilled to be a guest author of the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates. Book fairs are a big attraction in the UAE, and the annual event in Sharjah is the biggest of them. Throughout the week I’ll post updates on my experiences here.
Day one started with my arrival at the Dubai airport early in the morning after 13 or so hours of flying (with very little sleep, though I did watch about 8 hours of season 2 of Vikings). When I finally arrived at the hotel (and found a welcome package with dates and flowers waiting for me) I went right to bed.
My first and only Book Fair event of the day was an evening panel discussion on the relationship of form and content in poetry. I shared the panel with Gaza-born poet Na’ima Hasan and Yousef Abolouz, winner of the Arab Literary Award from the Jordan Writers’ Union. The session was moderated by poet Hamza Qannawi.
I’m afraid to admit, that even with a translator speaking the English words into my wireless earphones, I had difficulty following the other presentations. A big problem is that literary translation can’t be done on the fly, so at one point the translator simply stopped trying. In my own presentation, I discussed the approach to form in two different ways. The first was about form in the classical sense of the word (meter, lineation, stanza structure) and how making those structural choice early in the poem is an important aid to the poet during composition because it takes some of the decision-making element out of the process and can influence, or even force, language choice.
The other kind of form I referred to is more of what I call the purpose-built poem—from as function. Poems that are purpose built to perform a specific function (odes, elegies, letter poems, praise poems…) also aid the writer by restricting choices. Those kinds of forms have built-in goals (though they can be vague goals), audiences, and voices, which all contribute to the content/meaning layer of the poems.
Based on the questions from the audience, and the conversations I had with listeners afterword, I think the talk went over fairly well. I hope jetlag didn’t make me incoherent.
After the panel I went out to dinner with my old college friends Farid and Omer and the writer Saba Imtiaz at the best Thai restaurant in the UAE.
There will be more to report on tomorrow as I plan to spend more time at the book fair and hope to do some interviews with poets I meet.