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Hesham Al-Gakh’s Tahrir Square poetry honored in Istanbul

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By Istanbul Arts News

The poetry of Egyptian revolutionary poet Hesham Al-Gakh amazed audiences at a major gathering of international poets assembled in Istanbul this week for a one-night celebration of the world’s oldest love poem, which is currently in Istanbul’s archaeological museum.

An English translation of Al-Gakh’s poem, “An Honest View of Liberation Square” from one his emotional appearances on last year’s Prince of Poets television competition was read during a special portion of the event dedicated to the Arab Spring.

“Put away all of your old poems, tear apart all of your old notebooks, and write for Egypt today the poetry that she deserves,” said American performance artist Janelle Matrow as she read the translation. Matrow also read Al-Gakh’s final poem from the competition, “The Last Message” and received a standing ovation.

Headlined by poets Fred Simpson and Dan Boylan from New Zealand and the US, respectively, “The Call to Poetry” was held at a venue just off Istanbul’s Taksim Squre that was rowdy and lively with avant-garde music and an overflowing crowd that spilled into the square’s cobblestone street to listen to the poetry through an open door.

Originally from Iraq, the world’s oldest love poem also factored in the evening’s verse. Written on a 4,000-year-old clay tablet about the size of a cell phone, the poem begins: “Bridegroom, dear to my heart, Goodly is your beauty, honey sweet. You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you; Bridegroom, I would be taken to the bedchamber.”

Written in cuneiform for a Sumerian king in the 21st century B.C the ancient tablet was discovered in the late 1880’s in Nippur, an ancient city of Mesopotamia that is now Iraq. Known at the Istanbul Museum as “Istanbul #2461,” the tablet is a sensuous ballad containing a confession by the Goddess of Love and Fertility professing love for the king. “It is a night of poetic love and a night of poetic revolution,” said event master of ceremonies David Trilling as Andrea Ariel, an Argentine actress opened the night by taking the stage dressed as like an ancient princess to read the poem.

A figure from the Hollywood underground poetry scene and “The Call to Poetry” organizer, Boylan premiered a ballad about the Devil, which will soon be published in a collection of verse and featured in a documentary, which he said will include the Istanbul event. “The Devil threw back his head and sobbed, I am too sensitive for this job, I just don’t know any more what is wrong, or right, I keep bothering people like you in the middle of the night,” Boylan said reciting his poem.

Visiting to mark the release of his book of poetry, “Lucky Me!” Simpson finished his reading with a poem called Alienation. “I had the option of staying on the moon, of making a permanent home there, but everyone had gone, everyone; so I reattached my wings and flew towards the sun,” he said.

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