I Heart Arab Poets

From El-Ahram, this merits quoting in full:

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish on Saturday published “a correction of statements by the press” in the London-based daily Al-Hayat, regarding a statement he allegedly made at the press conference he gave in the course of the 41st International Carthage Festival in Tunis, two weeks ago. By the time the “correction” appeared the statement had generated a wide-ranging campaign against the poet, largely due to a misunderstanding. Describing the Abbasid master [poet] Abul-Tayib Al-Mutanabbi as “more contemporary than any contemporary Arab poet”, Darwish was thought by many to be insulting fellow poets throughout the Arab world — something that prompted many a frenzied reaction.

First publicised in Al-Hayat, the “statement” was quickly taken up by Cairo’s foremost literary journal, Akhbar Al-Adab, which published a series of responses by Egyptian poets, ranging from mild admonition to harsh critique of Darwish’s own work. The issue has since spiralled beyond any reason. Few seemed to notice that, in honouring his greatest influence, Darwish was including himself in the phrase “any contemporary poet”; the statement was made in passing in response to a brief question about Al-Mutannabi (not about contemporary Arab poets). In the “correction” Darwish points out that he was “greatly surprised by the interpretations and responses, whether for or against, that my quick words about the poetry of Al-Mutannabi generated”. His statement had been purposely decontextualised, he added, and interpreted in a literate framework that ultimately runs counter to its “metaphorical intent”.

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