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al-Mutanabbi


Yarranabbe Park, Sydney
March 5, 2017, 2:00pm


The verses of tenth century poet Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi still wonder and amaze with the same wittiness and magnificence as they did more than a thousand years ago. His legacy has been uttered, copied, praised, imitated and enthused around the world, perhaps nowhere else more than in Baghdad.  In the old quarter of this city, just a few steps from the Tigris River bank, al-Mutanabbi Street lies. Around it, knowledge production and dissemination—in the form of books, manuscripts, conversations and whispers—have been a constant since the Abbasid Caliphate.

In the 20th century, nationalists, pan-Arabists, leftists and all sort of intellectuals and artists from Iraq and the Middle East stepped in this very same street in search of knowledge.  This happened even in times of war and confusion, such as in March 5, 2007, when a bomb exploded just as sellers arranged their books for passersby to see.

In the other side of the world, in San Francisco, poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil initiated, as a response to the bombing, an on-going project to witness the continual human rights devastation in Iraq.

al-Mutanabbi consisted in an Arabic poetry reading at Yarranabbe Park, where the 320m length of al-Mutanabbi Street were laid out and walked through by participants. The location was selected because of its dimensions and proximity to a body of water, exactly as the al-Mutanabbi street lays next to the Tigris river.

This project—created in collaboration with artists Catherine Cartwright, Heather Matthew and poet Ali Aldahesh—acknowledges the importance of al-Mutanabbi and Arabic literature in general, but also of diversity, tolerance and the free exchange of ideas. As Beausoleil wrote, “we recognize that this distant landscape is our own, and we must walk through it.”

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