The Art of Writing

Working with Arabic Schools and Students

Your Arabic (and other) partners may well surprise you with their knowledge of and enthusiasm for poetry. Arabic poetry is extremely important to Arabic speakers in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, and the Arabic poets have included here, Mahmoud Darwish and Tamim Al -Bargouti have immense, rock-star status.

There are many reasons for this – it might be a good idea to have your Arabic students tell your UK students!) but some of them are: Classical Arabic is ancient – poems go back a thousand years – but has not changed very much. Students today can read and understand classical Arabic, and do, when they read the Koran. This keeps them in touch with their history and religion and with their fellow Arabs. Arabic is a shared language – though students in Palestine and Iraq speak different dialects, they can understand each other through Arabic. So poems are a shared culture and code, but also modern and exciting; Homer and Kanye West.

Because they have read quite a lot of poetry, and learned lots of the Koran, you may well find that your Arabic students readily produce verse which sounds grand and sophisticated, and also quite like the Koran – your challenge may be to get them to express themselves simply, about their own lives.

Classical Arabic form are heavily rhymed, often around a caesura (break) in the middle of the line. There are also many forms which use repeated and patterned rhymes. These are all forms which are very hard to reproduce in English, which is poor in rhyme. However, in the last sixty years much great Arabic poetry has also been written in ‘prose’ (informal verse) and in dialect. We will be encouraging Arabic students to write in this form, as we will be encouraging English students to avoid rhyme because we are focussing on sharing images. In the ghazal exercise, we will all share a simplified version of a form.