Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance - Carl Sandburg..........Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject - John Keats .........Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge - William Wordsworth ..........Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand - Plato .........No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrance of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language - Samuel Taylor Coleridge .........One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves - W. H. Auden ...........Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash - Leonard Cohen .........There is a pleasure in poetic pains which only poets know - William Cowper .........Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood -T. S. Eliot ..........Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason - Novalis...........He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life - George Sand .........A poem is never finished, only abandoned - Paul Valery ........A poet is a bird of unearthly excellence, who escapes from his celestial realm arrives in this world warbling. If we do not cherish him, he spreads his wings and flies back into his homeland - Kahlil Gibran.............Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance - John Keats..........To be a poet is a condition, not a profession - Robert Frost........A poem is true if it hangs together. Information points to something else. A poem points to nothing but itself - E. M. Forster.........Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo - Don Marquis...........Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things - T. S. Eliot ..........You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick. You're back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in - Dylan Thomas .........Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words - Paul Engle......... There is not a joy the world can give like that it takes away! Lord Byron

Poet takes a novel approach to history


By P. Ramakrishnan


Award-winning poet Sayed Gouda found the switch from Arabic to English much easier than the recent challenge of moving from poetry to prose.

"I have lived here in Hong Kong for the past 13 years and  lost touch with the written Arabic language," he says with a laugh.

After 20 years as a poet, and with works published in Egypt's respected literary journal Akhbar Al-Adab, Gouda has released his first novel, Once Upon a Time in Cairo.

A leading figure in Hong Kong's literary community -  he organises Arabic Nadwah, a monthly reading of Arabic poetry at the Fringe Club - Gouda, 37, says the novel reflects the way  his work has changed since he arrived in Hong Kong in 1992.

"The first writer who really opened the door for me to read English literature was Thomas Hardy - it was Return of the Native," says the translator  and accountant for the Kuwait consulate. "I loved his style. I  later discovered that he was also a poet. I can see that he has chosen every word carefully. I see them as poetic novels."

Set in 1948, Once Upon a Time in Cairo follows three families living in one house. Each family claims ownership of the property, and their animosity spreads across generations. Gouda describes it as a parable of the Middle East.

"It's a symbolic novel," he  says. "Each character resembles  a country or a leader in the Middle East. And each chapter deals with a certain period of our modern history."

The novel starts in 1948, when Israel took over Palestinian land. The other sections are based in the historically important years of 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1981.

Gouda tears out a page from his notebook and draws diagrams. "The character Galilah - she represents Israel itself," he says. "The master of the district is El-King, the king. By that I mean Britain, the kingdom.

"In the old times, there used to be a master for the street or the district itself - a master who collects protection tax on people, a master who protects the family who claims the room. This overseer was Britain at first. In time, like an old lion who goes away, the El-King loses the power. The character of a sultan comes in - a new master. That's America. All the names of the characters have more than one meaning. In Arabic, all names mean more than what the syllables are."

Although the symbolism is clear, Gouda says the message of the book is kept vague. "Before creating any sort of art - whether it's a poem, a novel, a painting or a piece of music - should I have a message to convey to the reader?

"The answer in my opinion is, `Not necessarily'. Even if there's  a message, I shouldn't reveal it," Gouda says. "I can only convey  it wrapped in my work of art  and leave it to the reader to unfold it and understand it in  any way he likes.

"To be neutral is not an easy task, I have to admit, especially when I know that my countrymen will read it. But as a writer, I must be unbiased.

"I don't expect everyone to understand the story in exactly the same way as I do. It's almost impossible. I wrote it as a novelist, not a historian. If the reader enjoys it as a novel, I'm happy."


Once Upon a Time in Cairo  (Blacksmith) will be on sale this month for $98

 Friday, June 10, 2005


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