DIPF brings together more than 100 poets from 45 different countries. What do you think that will achieve?
What brings us together is the hope for peace, for mutual understanding of East and West.
Have you ever been to Dubai before?
No I haven’t. I don’t expect anything, but I do hope for true listeners of poetry. I am sure there will be many.
Do you think poetry is an underappreciated art form compared to, for example, the novel?
Fortunately poetry is at the edge of society, which is the reason poets have a voice. The festival will allow poets to utter their voices from that edge to create mutual understanding.
In November 2006, you created controversy by denouncing the work of Chinese writers Wei Hui and Jiang Rong. But you also said you admired the work of Lu Xun. What’s your response to the controversy?
I myself admire many Chinese poets including those who are coming to Dubai. But as a scholar I have to criticise all those Chinese writers who do not sacrifice themselves for literature, but only for money.
Why did you agree to come to Dubai International Poetry Festival?
I’m always happy to accept invitations to festivals abroad, and let my poems reach a new audience. This is doubly so when the poems are translated, or reborn, in another language. I also had a previous encounter with Arab poets at the al-Mutanabbi Festival in Zurich in 2006, and found the exchange, and sometimes the different views on poetry, stimulating.
What do you think bringing together so many different poets from so many varied countries across the globe will achieve?
There is always a stimulating exchange between poets of different cultures. At the same time, there tends to be a spirit of camaraderie, a feeling of comfort that we are all engaged in the same strange, unpopular activity, even if we happen to be spread out all over the world.
Do you think that poetry is an underappreciated art form?
Yes, it is unappreciated in the greater world, but it’s one of the marks of our civilisation. I firmly believe that many more people would make time for poetry if they’d only give it a chance. That’s what festivals can help bring about – if they create a buzz, they bring people to poetry. Any of the big festivals I’ve been to show that. Poetry exists in two places – oral delivery, and read on the page. My friend, the American poet Thomas Lynch, puts it very neatly: ‘Before poetry is a written and a read thing, it is a heard and a said thing.’
Ali Al Shaali
How did the idea for DIPF come about?
It stems from the vision of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. The festival aims to achieve global interconnectedness through poetry by allowing poets and poetry lovers from all over the world to meet and communicate with one another, in an atmosphere enriched by the lines and music of poems.
Wow, that sounds quite ambitious. Why do you think so many poets agreed to come?
We believe the poets have responded to the vision of the festival, which seeks to create a common platform to exchange ideas. In today’s globalised world, it’s important that everyone in the world talks to each other and forms a better understanding of one another’s thoughts and culture, despite the obvious differences. Differences are healthy but can turn harmful if there is a lack of understanding and miscommunication.
Good point. So what events will there be at the festival?
The main poetry reading sessions will be conducted by well-known poets and take place at Madinat Jumeirah in the evenings – we expect these to attract great crowds. We’ll also host short sketches and one-act plays at various shopping malls. This is a flash back to Souq Ukadh, a traditional market place where poets would mingle with the public to recite their poetry. There’s something for everyone.
DIPF runs until Tuesday March 10. For more information, visit the English language website at www.dipf.ae/English/Pages/default.aspx