Lecturer: Raficq Abdulla
Topic: Rumi to Adonis: The Conference of the Birds
Where does poetry get you? What is the role of poetry and is it different in different cultures? Does poetry count in the contemporary world? Raficq Abdulla searches for the heart of poetry by reading into the claims poetry has on us from West to East. The English poet, Ruth Padel, has written a book entitled The Poem and the Journey (Chatto & Windus, 2007). This talk embarks on its own journey along the Way of Verse - from Eliot, CH Sisson, Auden, Yves Bonnefoy, Moniza Alvi, Geoffrey Hill and others to Rumi, some of the classical Urdu poets, and the contemporary Arab poet, 'Adonis' (Ahmad Said).
Poetry is not only made from words on the page but also from the interplay of the sounds heard. It is not only the poets who create poetry but also the readers and listeners who imagine new interpretations and re-enact private and communal expectations. There is a transactional relationship between the writer and the page; between the writer and the reader; between the performer and the audience; between literature and the culture from which it springs, which forms it; between poetry itself and the identities and societies it both reflects and shapes.
Our modern age brims with fast-living, throw-away hype infested with congeries of blatant celebrities and charlatans who are shoved on us by the media's insidious contagion, and with headline catastrophes and calamities facing all of us both in the East and the West, as we try to survive under a mountain of foolish distractions and anxieties. The play of poetry, Raficq Abdulla suggests, has become even more important to us in our struggle to live with integrity and negotiate a true and private space for ourselves within the changing identities that the modern world imposes upon us.
Q1. Muslims, like many other religious communities, generally take great pride in their poetic heritage, not only in its literary merit but also in its mystical powers. The Qur’an, after all, reads in verse form, and Rumi is even said to be the Persian voice of the divine. What is it about poetry that ties it to the idea of the ‘sacred’?

Q2. Very true. As you said, this is why it is said that poetry has been with us since the beginnings of civilisation. However, some people would say that today, this ‘traditional’ genre is under threat. One such threat is posed by the fast-paced, quick reward media such as cinema, television, the Internet. How do you see the future of poetry charting out in this context?

Q3. Another threat has to do with poetry’s relationship with power. Poets writing in Arabic or Persian and other contexts are often silenced when they speak of politics. Is this proof that poetry matters – or rather, that it has become marginal for most people because poetry that engages with the ‘real world’ in these contexts simply cannot survive?

Q4. On a more personal level, you have quite a reputation yourself both as an advocate of poetry – with your work on Attar and Rumi, for example – and as a practising poet. You are also associated with PEN, which campaigns for writers’ rights. Does taking poetry seriously actually shape who we are, as individuals and societies?

Q5. Some thinkers like Heidegger favoured poetry amongst the arts and identified it as the highest form of art. What are your views on this subject and on poetry being considered among the highest form of thinking?