Every Monday night, a dark, inhospitable hotel bar is transformed into one of Syria’s most vibrant creative salons: the House of Poetry, Bait Al-Qassid.
Jennifer Mackenzie wrote one of the first pieces about the weekly event (which recently celebrated its fourth anniversary) in Gulf Life magazine.
The basement bar at the Fardoss Tower Hotel, just round the corner from Cham Palace, struggles to attract more than a couple of people most nights. On Mondays, it couldn’t be more different. It’s standing room only. And if you arrive late, you’ll struggle even to find space to stand. Perch yourself too far back and (until the recent smoking ban) it was hard to even see the poet reading from the spotlit podium in the corner.
Lukman Derky is the master of ceremonies, presiding over an often controversial affair. It seems there are few untouchable subjects at Bait Al-Qassid, with poems read in English, Arabic, Spanish, French and a multitude of other languages. The event seems to be popular with Arabic language students, keen to try their hand at some Mahmoud Darwish or Jubran Khalil Jubran.
The event has made such a name for itself that it’s even attracting poets like Egypt’s Ahmad Fouad Najm who read some of his own work.
Now, the story has made it into the New York Times. The problem is that the NYT (and US media more generally) see everything that is happening in Syria though a political lens, reducing poetry down to a form of dissent. It’s not just the incredibly misleading headline (“A rare platform for new voices” – what, so Syria has no artists, musicians, poets, actors?), you just have to wait until paragraph three before the secret policemen make an appearance.
Will we ever get to a stage where Syrian art is written about because it is art, not just because it is Syrian.