Tunis poetry festival aims to revive all forms of a deeply rooted art

The festival invited visitors to daily workshops, conferences and evening poetry readings with renowned poets from the region.
Sunday 15/04/2018
Crucial message. Egyptian poet Shirin Adawi recites a poem at the closing ceremony of the Tunis Poetry Festival.  (Tunis Poetry Festival)
Crucial message. Egyptian poet Shirin Adawi recites a poem at the closing ceremony of the Tunis Poetry Festival. (Tunis Poetry Festival)

TUNIS - Tunis’s newly inaugurated City of Culture brought together 240 poets from 16 countries for the Carthage Days of Poetry, an international festival aimed at celebrating poetry contributions in the region.

The late-March festival was hailed as a “historic” opportunity for poets.

“In a time when some people say poetry has lost its place, today we prove them wrong,” said Jamila Mejri, a Tunisian poet and the festival’s director. “It is an opportunity to celebrate poetry.

“The theme is to celebrate poetry and celebrate life, which is meant to send a message. It is an opportunity to face the difficulties and issues we have in our life and our country and to transcend this through art and to fight it with art.”

The festival invited visitors to daily workshops, conferences and evening poetry readings with renowned poets from the region, including Iraq’s Hamid Saeed, the UAE’s Mohammad Briki and Egypt’s Shirin Adawi.

“The programme was rich,” Mejri said. “The festival seeks to become a platform for the meeting and exchange of not only Tunisian poets but also poets from the Arab world. There were conferences dedicated to issues related to poetry and this will become a forum to discuss the difficulties poets face in the Arab world.”

She added: “The festival celebrates all forms of poetry. For instance, there were readings for poetry in (numerous) dialects. Thirteen poets from Tunisia participated with poems written in the Tunisian dialect.”

Another of the festival’s goals was to foster intellectual exchange on the state of modern-day poetry, which many fear is losing ground in the region.

“Poetry today is living its universal dimension,” said Moroccan poet Houria el-Khamlichi. “Arab poetry as an art form is open to the poetries of the world and open to other artistic disciplines, like theatre and plastic arts. This shows how poetry can function as an approach to life that can humanise our world.

“This has to be taught to change the traditional point of view of poetry as a form of literature that is inaccessible. We need to remind people that poetry is to be sung and that it is to be studied as an aspect musically and as rhythm, not just words. It is also music and not just language.”

Lebanese poet Charbel Dagher said: “Poetry is meant to disturb because its structure, rhyme and content express the beautiful solitude of the soul and the individual.”

Khamlichi said the festival provided participants with an “enriching experience.” “We have amazing poets that lack exposure, especially in the modern world that became digitalised,” she said.

The festival attracted a large audience, especially young people. “Students participated in great numbers, which was amazing,” said Mejri. “Also, we dedicated an evening for street poetry, an initiative by a group of young Tunisians.”

The enthusiasm that the youth showed, she said, proves “that poetry is still relevant” today, “maybe even more than ever.”

“Poetry is mysterious. It is about borrowing, imagery and experimentation,” said Khamlichi. “Some young people might find it difficult to access poems but this is an opportunity for them to learn more about poetry. We need to focus on the role of poetry as an aspect of a multidisciplinary culture. After all, the poem is a beautiful adventure.”

Beyond promoting the role of poetry, the festival also showed how the genre can interact with other artistic disciplines.

“The idea was to have a workshop to work on the fusion of poetry and plastic arts,” said Rym Zayat, a workshop coordinator. “We wanted to work on plastic arts that feature poetry or how to embody poetry in plastic arts.”

She added: “We worked on portraits of poets. Many people know the poetry but don’t know the face of the poet so we wanted to commemorate that. We also worked on graffiti using poetry. The walls are newspapers today as the wall became a space open for all to read and to send a message and the advantage of graffiti art is that it combines both poetry and images.”

The festival concluded with prizes for “Best Young Poet” awarded to Tunisian Ali Araybi; the Tanit for Poetic Creativity won by Tunisians Youssef Rzouga and Moncef Ouhaibi; and the Best First Poetry Collection given to Tunisian Akram Abidi.

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