Watch / Listen

Poetic Voices of the Muslim World was created to deepen understanding of the diverse cultures of the Muslim world via its poetries. It consists of an 18-panel traveling exhibition designed to introduce the project to library patrons across the U.S., as well as a series of public programs presenting the varied poetic traditions through the scholarly interpretation of the art.

PILOT PROJECT — Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World
Sponsored by the NEH’s Bridging Cultures Initiative, Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World was a series of talks, readings, panels and symposia held in the spring of 2011 in New York City and curated by City Lore and Poets House in collaboration with the Asia Society. The multidisciplinary series brought together poets, scholars and artists. It culminated with an all-day symposium on May 7th at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Participating Scholars and Poets included Najwa Adra, Ammiel Alcalay, Kazim Ali, Reza Aslan, Kaveh Bassiri, Clarissa Burt, Steve Caton, Sylviane Diouf, Syed Akbar Hyder, Pierre Joris, Persis Karim, Khaled Mattawa, Jawid Mojaddedi, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, Stefania Pandolfo, Frances W. Pritchett, Michael Sells, Mahwash Shoaib, and Suzanne Stetkevych. Nearly 2,000 people attended these events. As part of Illuminated Verses, City Lore and Poets House published Essays on the Occasion of Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World.

TRAVELING EXHIBITION
Since 2013, over 300,000 public library visitors across the U.S. have viewed the traveling exhibition or attended programs and events related to Poetic Voices of the Muslim World. By the end of 2015, the exhibition and public programs will have been presented in ten cities:

Spring 2016:
Newark, NJ (Exhibition: Newark Public Library; Programs: Newark Museum)

Fall 2015:
Atlanta, GA (Atlanta-Fulton Public Library)
Houston, TX (Houston Public Library)

Spring 2015:
San Francisco, CA (San Francisco Public Library)
St. Louis, MO (St. Louis Public Library)

Spring 2014:
Detroit, MI (Detroit Public Library)
New York, NY (Queens Public Library)

Fall 2013:
Washington, DC (D.C. Public Library)
Milwaukee, WI (Milwaukee Public Library)

Spring 2013:
Jacksonville, FL (Jacksonville Public Library)
Los Angeles, CA (Los Angeles Public Library)


PUBLIC PROGRAMS

The Poetic Voices of the Muslim World traveling exhibition is accompanied by a series of public programs presenting the varied poetic traditions of the Muslim world through the scholarly interpretation of the art. See below for a full list of programs and their descriptions.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Poet and translator Khaled Mattawa reads and discusses the poetry of Syrian writer Adonis (1930- ), considered one of the Arab world’s greatest living poets. Audiences leave with an understanding of why Adonis’ influence on Arabic literature has been so remarkable, likened to that of T. S. Eliot’s on English-language poetry.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Through images and recordings, award-winning historian Sylviane A. Diouf of The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture illustrates how the blues, which originated in the American South, may have evolved from the techniques of the recitation of the Qur’an and the call to prayer in West Africa. She plays early blues recordings side by side with African recordings of the call to prayer and invites audiences to catch the similarities.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Muslim-American poet Kazim Ali talks about his experiences negotiating the different languages of his culturally rich upbringing—Persian, English, Tamil and Telugu—as well as the cultural biases against Muslims that he must confront in everyday life in the U.S. He also describes the ways in which his poetry explores Muslim spiritual rituals from the vantage point of a gay American writer.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Celebrate Mother’s Day by exploring the many facets of love through poetry performances, workshops, and artist demonstrations in the Islamic Art galleries, followed by a special Sunday at the Met reading and discussion with New York State Poet Marie Howe, renowned poet and editor Kazim Ali, and Columbia University scholar Frances Pritchett.

1:00-1:30pm & 2:00-2:30pm Poetry Writing Workshop
Write your own short poem and be inspired by works of art in the galleries during this workshop with poet Kazim Ali.

1:30-2:00pm & 2:30-3:00pm Gallery Performance and Poetry Reading
Experience the unique mystical style and virtuosity of performer Amir Vahab during gallery performances.

1:00-4:00pm (30 minute sessions) Artist Demonstrations
Explore love, Islamic visual traditions, and written language through traditional and contemporary techniques. Watch master calligrapher Elinor Aishah Holland demonstrate Islamic scripts and learn about IshqnamaThe Book of Love and other recent projects from artist Laimah Osman. Join both artists as you try your own hand at making a folding book and beautiful lettering.

1:00pm How Did They Do That? Tilework of the Islamic World
Peek at technique and learn—through handling tools and materials—how Islamic tiles were created.

3:00pm Sunday at the Met: Love Speaks: A Day of Art and Poetry from the Muslim World
Poets and scholars respond to the theme of love in art and poetry in the Muslim World. Presentations by Marie Howe, New York State Poet and Dr. Frances Pritchett, Professor Emerita of Modern Indic Languages, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, with a poetry reading by Kazim Ali.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Syrian-American poet Mohja Kahf, who grew up in a devout Muslim household that relocated to the U.S. when she was three, discusses stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs—as victimized women, terrorists, and the antithesis of America–which she dismantles in her poetry. She also examines both American and Islamic poetic traditions as well as global popular culture that she draws upon.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Poet and scholar Persis Karim discusses poetry and poetic translation, the emergence of Iranian-American literature and its connection to longstanding political tensions between Iran and the US. She will read from her own poetry and translations as well as discuss the way Iran’s rich literary tradition has influenced her as a poet, writer, and editor.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Translator, scholar, and “living encyclopedia” of Turkish verse, Kemal Silay introduces two rich but parallel traditions from the Ottoman Empire—the complex and cosmopolitan divan lyrics of the Ottoman court poet Fuzûlî, who wrote Layla and Majnun (the Muslim world’s Romeo and Juliet), and the Turkish vernacular sung poetry of Anatolia’s aşık troubadour Yunus Emre—and explores how they both express a distinctly Turkish world view.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

13th century Persian poet Rumi is now one of the most widely read poets in the United States.  In this talk, scholar and translator Jawid Mojaddedi discusses the beauty of Rumi’s Masnavi: its folk tales, sacred history, entertaining stories and lessons, all written in rhyming couplets.  This talk is followed by a performance of the poems set to music (in English and Persian) by distinguished composer and Persian classical performer Amir Vahab with his ensemble.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Omar Offendum is a Syrian-American Poet & Hip-Hop artist born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Washington DC and currently living in Los Angeles. Offendum has been featured on ABC News, Al-Jazeera, the BBC, PBS and other major news outlets, helped raise thousands of dollars for various humanitarian relief organizations, and lectured at a number of prestigious academic institutions including Harvard, MIT, Columbia and the American University of Beirut. Most recently he has been involved in creating several critically-acclaimed songs about the popular democratic uprisings throughout the Middle East & North Africa.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

From the 18th century to the present, there have been some sixty translations of the Qur’an from Arabic into English. Mixing metrical and non-metrical language, the Qur’an is stylistically distinct in Arabic and has posed particular challenges for translators. In this seminar, distinguished scholar Bruce Lawrence gives an overview of the structure of Islam’s holiest book and introduces the subtleties of the text through a close reading of several different English translations. This lecture is followed by a recitation of Qur’anic verses by a reciter from a local mosque.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

The Thousand and One Nights is among the world’s most beloved works. Since its translation and publication into European languages it has captivated the imagination not only of popular audiences but of countless writers and artists such as Poe, Joyce, Borges, Mahfouz, and Rushdie. The narratives of the Nights and the many offshoots they spawned have had a fascinating influence on literary and artistic production, popular culture and political imagination. Sinan Antoon’s talk introduces audiences to this important world masterpiece and the debates surrounding it.

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Joined by West African Jali musicians, poet and storyteller Kewulay Kamara discusses, performs and screens his documentary about his attempt to recreate an ancient oral epic after the only written copy was destroyed in Sierra Leone’s Civil War. The 40 minute documentary, In Search of Finah Misa Kule chronicles his journey back to his home village of Dankawali with his son Kalie Kamara, a teenager with a passion for hip hop, to interview the survivors of the Civil War and collect the stories that his father had written down in Arabic script a generation earlier. In his discussion, Kamara speaks about the relationship of Muslims to Christians in his village, and about oral poetry as history.

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Composed in sets of two-line verses, the ghazal has long been favored by poets from the Arabic Golden Age and the Ottoman courts to the contemporary English-speaking worrld.  Scholar Syed Akbar Hyder offers a brief history of this form and close, thoughtful readings of work by two Urdu masters–Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) and Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869)–which demonstrate the beauty of the form. This lecture is followed by a performance by Indo-Canadian ghazal singer Kiran Ahluwalia and her accompanist Rez Abbasi, who bring contemporary stylings to this timeless work.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

Professor of Persian Literature, author, and translator Dr. Farzaneh Milani explores the work of Iran’s three great women poets of the 20th century–classical poet Parvin E’tesami (1907-1941), iconoclastic modernist Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967), and the “Lioness of Iran” Simin Behbahani (1927-2014). She also demonstrates how Iranian women have emerged as a moderating, modernizing force at the forefront of the renegotiation of boundaries in their homelands.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

The qasida is a long rhymed ode common to Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu literature.  It originated among Arab Bedouins as an oral poem in praise of the tribe or denigrating its enemies.  Michael Sells’ insightful talk reveals the remarkable richness of language and range of emotions evoked by Arabic Golden Age poets Imru al-Qays and al-Mutanabbi. Dr. Sells describes how the form continues to be used today in contexts as varied as televised political commentaries and village weddings.   This lecture is followed by an Iraqi maqam performance by Amir El-Saffar and his ensemble Safaafir, who draw on forms like the qasid from the Arabic Golden Age.


The ensemble Safaafir performs an Iraqi Maqam based on a poem by al-Mutanabbi. Part of the day-long public symposium for Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World, Saturday, May 7, 2011