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Poetry Recital | Al-Babtain Poetry Series

Patching Poetry’s Cloak: the Poet’s Historical Sense in Modern Arabic and Dutch Poetry

Monday 25 March 2019
Free to visit, drinks after | registration required
Index Poetry
Herenstraat 83d

هَلْ غَادَرَ الشُّعَرَاءُ مِنْ مُتَرَدَّمِ | Patching Poetry’s Cloak: the Poet’s Historical Sense

It was with this exasperated statement that the pre-Islamic Arabic poet Antara ibn Shaddad opened his most famous ode. Antara felt the weight of the achievements of the poets who preceded him, yet he was intent to find some place to leave his mark. 

Antara’s acute awareness of tradition resonated more than a millennium later in T.S. Eliot’s statement that “anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year” needed to possess a “historical sense”, an awareness of the poetic tradition which came long before, and which will survive long after the poet’s own work. Eliot believed that a poet must feel more than “merely with his own generation in his bones” – the poet needs to know the past and sense its presence in order to participate in the tradition of poetry writing. The historical sense enables poets to grasp their place in time, and thus best express their own contemporaneity.

Eliot, Antara and other poets have told us that the shadow of the past was key to elevating their expression from the level of feeling to profound knowing, the twin components implied in the Arabic word for a poet: shāʾir.

Al-Babtain Arabic Poetry Series

The inaugural colloquium of the al-Babtain Arabic Poetry Series at Leiden University will explore the presence of the past in modern Arabic and Dutch poetry. The figurative cloaks of Arabic and Dutch poetry have grown very large, and we wonder what modern poets feel they can patch now. Through poetry readings and discussions between poets and scholars, we will explore how poets respond to their respective traditions, and how they express the legacy of their forerunners’ poetry in their own work.

The colloquium will comprise of two events: a public poetry reading and moderated discussion between Arabic and Dutch poets and scholars of their poetry, and a masterclass where students will study more closely the work of poets and debate Antara and Eliot’s conception of the historical sense.

The Al-Babtain Arabic Poetry Series are part of the programme of the Al-Babtain Leiden University Centre for Arabic Culture.

© Tessa Posthuma de Boer

Tsead Bruinja

Tsead Bruinja (b. 1974) is a poet living in Amsterdam. He made his debut in 2000 with the Frisian language collection called De wizers yn it read (The meters in the red). Bruinja’s debut in the Dutch language, Dat het zo hoorde (The way it should sound), was published in 2003, and was nominated for the Jo Peters Poetry Prize the following year. Bruinja compiles anthologies – including the famous Kutgedichten (Twat poems) and the anthology Droom in blauwe regenjas: nieuwe Friese dichters (Dream in a blue raincoat: new Frisian poets) –writes critical reviews, hosts literary events and performs in the Netherlands and abroad, often with musician Jaap van Keulen and occasionally with the flamenco dancer Tanja van Susteren.

Bruinja has been recently appointed as the new Poet Laureate of the Netherlands (Dichter des Vaderlands) for a period of two years. Bruinja has been translated in English, German, Polish, Lithunian, Arabic, Macedonian, Indonesian, French and Slovenian, Kurdish, Turkish, Papiamento, Portugese, Danish, Spanish and Afrikaans. 

Emad Fouad

Born in Alfaroniya village in the Nile Delta of Egypt on Oct. 22, 1974, Emad Fouad was raised in the city of Shobra Elkhema. He has been working as a freelance journalist in Arabic newspapers and magazines since 1996. His poetry has been translated into several languages, among which are English, French, Dutch, Persian, German, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Latvian and Russian. He has been living in Antwerp, Belgium since 2004, but he writes only in his native tongue, Arabic. His poems have been published in several Arab newspapers and literary magazines, among which are Aladab (Lebanon), Nizwa (Oman), Mina (USA), The Poetic Movement (Mexico), Features (Sweden), Annahar (Lebanon), Assafir (Lebanon), Alakhbar (Lebanon), Addustour (Jordon), Alayam (Bahrain), Sheair (Egypt), Alhelal (Egypt), Alquds Alaraby (UK), Almustaqbal (Lebanon), Alkitaba Alokhra (Egypt), and Alhayat Aljadeda (Palestine).

Poetry Collections:

  •  "Status zero", Roman, Merit, Cairo,2015.
  • "Ten Ways to Mutilate a Corpse", Dar Aladab, Beirut, 2010.
  • "Silk", Dar Alnahda, Beirut, 2007.
  •  "With a Blue Bruise from the Bite of Remorse", Dar Sharqiat, Cairo, 2005.
  •  "An Old Don Juan Retired", Dar Sharqiat, Cairo, 2002.
  • "Ghosts Hurt by Lighting", Diwan Alkitaba Alokhra, Cairo, 1998.
© Bert van As RACM

From 1988 to 2015, Esther Jansma published 10 volumes of poetry including two anthologies of which the youngest one is entitled Voor altijd ergens  (Forever somewhere, Prometheus 2015), the poetic novel Picknick op de wenteltrap consisting of short reflections on childhood (Picknick on the spiral staircase, De Arbeiderspers 1997), and a collection of essays entitled Mag ik Orpheus zijn? (May I be Orpheus?, De Arbeiderspers 2011). In addition, together with Wiljan van den Akker, she translated the poetry of Canadian-born American poet, essayist and translator Mark Strand (1934-2014), resulting in two bi-lingual volumes of poetry: Gedichten eten (Eating poetry, De Arbeiderspers 2007) and Bijna onzichtbaar/Almost invisible (Van Oorschot 2011). With this same co-author and using the pen name Julian Winter she wrote the novel De Messias (The Messiah, Prometheus 2015). Her poetry was translated into among others Chinese, English, French, Russian and Swedish. In 2008 a selection of her poetry appeared in the UK under the title What it is (Bloodaxe Books, translation: Francis R. Jones). For her literary work, she received the Halewijn Price (1999), the VSB Poetry Price (1999),  the Hugues C. Pernath Price (2001), the A. Roland Holst Price (2006), the Jan Campert Price (2006), and the C.C.S. Crone Price (2014). At present, she is preparing a new volume of poetry, prepublications of which can be found in poetry magazines Awater (Fall 2018) and Het Liegend Konijn (2017 and Spring 2019). 

During the week she works as a researcher at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, using the tree rings in ancient wood to determine the exact age of, among others, shipwrecks, paintings, historical buildings and archaeological structures such as infrastructural remains dating to the Roman Period and Middle Ages. In 1997 her work in this field was awarded the W.A. van Es Award for Dutch Archaeology.

© Randa Shaath

Iman Mersal

Iman Mersal is an Egyptian poet, essayist, translator and literary scholar, and Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Alberta, Canada. She is the author of five books of Arabic poetry, selections from which have been translated into numerous languages. A selection of Mersal’s poetry, entitled These Are Not Oranges, My Love, translated by the poet Khaled Mattawa, was published in 2008 (Sheep Meadow Press). Her most recent publications include an Arabic translation of Charles Simic’s memoir, A Fly in the Soup (Al Kotob Khan, 2016), and Kayfa Talta’im: ‘An al-Umuma wa Ashbahiha (Kayfa Ta and Mophradat, 2017), translated into English by Robin Moger as Motherhood and its Ghosts (Kayfa Ta and Sternberg Press, 2018).


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