On Monday, July 17th, AS220 hosted a round-table discussion at the Main Stage with the Saudi poet Abdulatif Yousef in partnership with the Middle East Institute in DC. AS220’s Artistic Director and local poet, Shey Rivera, moderated the conversation.
Rivera and Yousef explored the value of poetry as a way to bridge cultural divides, the understanding that can grow from the sharing of art. Although the conversation centered on global connectedness and cultural empathy, Rivera and Yousef also discussed Yousef’s experience as a writer outside of his role as a cultural ambassador.
With the nature of his work it is almost impossible to separate Yousef’s poetry from its contexts. However, amidst exploring the greater implications of art as a means of cross-cultural conversation, the group talked about what it means to simply be a person who creates art. They addressed free speech, philosophy, the role of the artist, and the writing process.
Yousef expressed the freedom he feels inherent in writing poetry, in working through ideas with the materials of language– the connotations of words, the sounds they make. He discussed his relationship with music, and how he writes to a beat. As someone who writes in the classical Arabic tradition, Yousef gives an incredible attention to sound and movement in his work. When he read one of his poems aloud, the emotion translated even when the words did not.
A reading at the RISD Museum followed the discussion, with Abdulatif accompanied by the oudist Ahmed AlShaiba and actress Jessica Damouni. Rhode Island Poet Laureate, Tina Kane, led a discussion with the three after the reading.