The Daily Beast recently published a story about Jordan's slam poetry scene.
Poetry as a form of activism is nothing new. In fact, it has been alive and well for hundreds of years, if not longer in the Arab world. It is fair to say that poets are to Arabs as rockstars are to Westeners - they perform on prime time television to provoke and shock.
One of my favourite poet activists (yes, there is more than one) is the legendary Mahmoud Darwish. A Palestinian, his live readings were as electrifying as a Madonna concert. His words are as relevant to Palestinians sequestered in Gaza as they are for Syrian refugees.
During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow
(A State of Siege)
But Arabs are not the only ones who see poetry as a radical art form. African-Americans also used words to express their anger at injustice before the civil rights movement gathered momentum as part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. The first poem I saw is still my favourite and inspires me often and reads like a jazz song.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
But on another continent, poetry was political long before Africans were traded as slaves to America. Du Fu was a poet during the Tang dynasty in the 700s (yes, 700s, not 1700s). I discovered him via Vikram Seth who translated his poems while maintaining the elegant economy of words that is even more beautiful in the original language. A long time ago, a Chinese Singaporean friend of mine wrote and recited one of his poems to me and, although I could never repeat the words, I have never forgotten the way it sounded.
Light breeze on the fine grass.
I stand alone at the mast.
Stars lean on the vast wild plain.
Moon bobs in the Great River’s spate.
Letters have brought no fame.
Office? Too old to obtain.
Drifting, what am I like?
A gull between earth and sky.
(Thoughts While Travelling at Night)
So the girls in Amman continue a proud legacy and I wish that they might succeed where protests have failed.