Richard Wilcocks writes:
According to the cybernetics experts who collect data on poets, hopefully not because they suspect that they have the potential to become the acknowledged legislators of the world, Khalil Gibran is in the top three of the ranks, regularly read, recited and sung by millions, mainly in the original Arabic. Shakespeare and Lao Tzu stand on the podium with him. Marcos, the owner of Mint Café on North Lane, decided with myself that his poetry should be included in a Lebanese Evening, because the mystic and philosopher Gibran, like Marcos, was born in Lebanon – in the late nineteenth century in Bsharri, a predominantly Maronite Catholic area in the north. In 1895 he went to live in New York. Marcos delivered a summary of his life at the beginning of the evening.
While we were preparing, we both noticed that current translations into English which are available (identical on most websites) are in need of improvement. Some of them are wince-inducing, from an English native-speaker’s angle, and Marcos, the real linguistic expert, pointed out what he saw as mistranslations and infidelities. We sat down and wrestled with the relatively short A Tear and a Smile to produce our own version, which Marcos read during the evening in Arabic and I read in English. It was clear that some things could probably never be conveyed except in the original – no surprise there.
Audience-members packed into Mint, which has two upstairs rooms the size of the sitting rooms in an average flat and a downstairs trove of retro clothes on hangers, were obviously enjoying themselves, judging from their responses. They loved the authentically Lebanese food, all made on the premises, returning over and over again to the front counter to pick up more stuffed vine leaves or to spoon hummus on to flatbreads.
They loved the belly dancer as well, the lithe genuine article Natalie, clapping rhythmically as she performed to Lebanese dance music, beginning in the doorway between the two rooms, then shimmying from one to the other. Her explanation of her moves and on how she got into belly dancing was well received.
After a number by one of Lebanon’s most popular singers, Najwa Karam, Marcos spoke about another immensely popular recent poet who wrote in Arabic – Mahmoud Darwish, who died in 2008 and who is known as Palestine’s National Poet. His deeply emotional poem My Mother (Ummi) was read in Arabic and English, and also heard in a song version.
Short poems by Gibran followed, and the evening finished. “All poetry readings should be like this – on a programme along with music and dancing,” someone commented as we left.
“There’s more in the future. You wait and see,” replied Marcos.
Below, Marcos clapping, Natalie dancing, me reading -