Sunday, November 01, 2020

A moment of beauty: poetry and music night in Ramallah

By Elizabeth Jenkins - April 02, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [culture]

As the first notes began to trickle out of the oud, a silent hush swept across the audience assembled in the library of the Franco-German Cultural Centre in Ramallah. Conversations died down and faded away, as everyone’s attention turned to the melodious notes hanging in the air. 

The evening of March 28 dedicated to poetry and music had begun. By the time Sivan – a student from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music – reached the end of the entrance pieces, the audience was well and truly in the present moment, eyes trained towards the front, taking in the three poets from Palestine, Morocco and Germany.
Temye Tesfu (far left), Nida Awine (centre) and Taha Adnan face the audience as they are introduced. Source: Franco-German Cultural Centre.
The three poets were briefly introduced. Thus, the audience learnt Taha Adnan grew up in Marrakech but has been living in Brussels for the past 20 years, arriving in Belgium at 26 years of age. A poet and a playwright, his numerous works – written in Arabic originally – have since been published in French, Flemish, English and Spanish.
Temye Tesfu is a poet and a writer currently living in Berlin, after having grown up in Bavaria - an area in Germany that by his own account leans towards conservatism and ethno-nationalism. A poet and a writer, he told Palestine Monitor capitalism, colonialism and racism are the most frequent recurring themes in his work.
Originally from Battir and currently living in Ramallah, Nida Awine was the sole woman and Palestinian on the panel. Writing is a healing process for her, a way to explore one’s emotions, feelings, and sense of self. A literary critic used to presenting other poets’ and writers’ work, this was Awine’s first time reading in front of an audience.  
The poets took it in turns to present their work, their different styles and energies coming together in a subtle, harmonious whole. Tesfu performed in German and English; Awine and Adnan’s poems were in Arabic. The French and German translations of Adnan’s poems were projected onto a screen, allowing members of the audience – regardless of their native language – to access the meaning of the spoken words and bathe in their poignant formation.
Not all poems were translated in other languages, however. Opening remarks explained that the event was an experimental poetic evening, anchored in the bet that it is possible to be moved by spoken poetry, without necessarily understanding the language in which the words are said.
At the root of such a bet is the knowledge of a shared essence of humanity, which unites humans beyond borders and barriers of countries and languages. Poetry is a way of accessing this shared essence and thus a way of generating empathy for particular situations, Taha Adnan told Palestine Monitor. “I think that poetry – from very individual and personal experiences – can reflect the human condition which means that everyone could identify to a political situation,” he said.
Asked by Palestine Monitor whether poetry is always a political act, Adnan quipped “it’s a poetic act,” going on to explain that a poetic act is just as important as the political act.
Recollecting the terrorist attacks on Brussels on March 22, 2016, Adnan evoked the contrast between political responses –  where experts turn up with ready-made answers – and poetry. “There are people who have ready-made answers. We [poets] don’t attempt to give answers, nor to lecture but instead to ask a few, well-placed questions,” Adnan explained.
Politics and injustice were themes most present in Tesfu’s work, who spoke about being a person of colour in Germany. He tells the audience about frequent, frustrating encounters, during which appears the ever-recurring question 'but where are you really from?’, and its intrinsically-linked heavy implication that he can’t really be from Germany. Using humour and wit to highlight the absurdity of the question, Tesfu recounts how he might finally evoke his parents’ Eritrean origins, thus providing the expected answer to the un-open question.
Colonialism – past and present – ties Germany with Palestine, with the significant difference that the former colonises, and the latter is colonised. A shared experience of being colonised also renders Adnan, a Moroccan, particularly sensitive to the plight of Palestinians. “Living in the Arab world means living with Palestine,” he told Palestine Monitor, evoking his student days as an activist for Palestinian rights.
Nida Awine finishes reading one of her poems. Source: Franco-German Cultural Centre.
For Awine, “politics is dirty. The Israeli occupation is here, they’re criminals.” When Awine writes about Palestine, her writing is mostly filled with love, zaatar, skies, memories, beautiful evenings, constellations, orange trees and green. “My writing is about the heart, about the human interaction with loss, or with disaster or with crazy beautiful evenings. This is Palestine for me,” Awine explained.
As a parting gift, two young students from the Edward Said school wrapped the evening up with a stunningly beautiful final duo. Ram and Marcel joined the melodies of their guitar and violin to ring out in a hymn that could not but move the audience, appealing to and touching the common essence of our humanity.   
Lead photo: Moroccan author, Taha Adnan, introduces his work. Source: Franco-German Cultural Centre.

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