Kurdistan: Where Poets Are More Than Poets

Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse in Fair Observer:

Poetry-pic-1The poet, in a collared shirt beneath a sweater vest and elbow-patched blazer, takes his seat. The more audacious fans push to shake his hand; he rises to accept, to graze cheeks in the formal kiss. Each time he stands, the audience follows, breaking into fresh, ferocious applause. He takes the stage flanked by three bodyguards who clear a path through the grabbing attendees.

During his short speech on political parties and their failings, the Kurdish language and its splintering, the audience keeps bursting into applause, like peals of thunder. I start a tally as he reads his poems. Audience members mouth the words along with him. After one poem, the clapping synchronizes and the audience takes up a chant, “Doo-bah-rah! Doo-bah-rah!” — “Again! Again!” and the poet relaunches, delivering the poem a second time. He leans over the lectern to deliver the lines. The tally: 48.

I remember the first time I’d seen such a response to live poetry — at an elocution contest sponsored by the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Some 20 contestants took the stage and at least 100 students crammed into the cafeteria just to watch try-outs. At the time, the school only had 400 students. When the student-translator took the stage to read the poem in its original language first, the audience interrupted him, cheering at the end of each line. All this while the university had trouble galvanizing students to come to soccer games.

More here.