Lebanese poet Zahi Wehbe shares his passion for poetry

Zahi Wehbe will be in Kuwait to recite his poetry. [Zeina al-Abdelhady/Al-Shorfa].

Zahi Wehbe will be in Kuwait to recite his poetry. [Zeina al-Abdelhady/Al-Shorfa].

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Zahi Wehbe is a poet and media personality who has brought culture into every Arab home through his passion for poetry and art.

He shared this passion on a programme called "Khaleek bil Beit" that made him famous over the last 15 years.

Wehbe said love is the theme of his poetry, as the word is all-encompassing and does not discriminate between men and women.

During a visit to Kuwait, where he is scheduled to present two poetry recitals, Wehbe spoke with Al-Shorfa about the process of writing poetry and his love for books.

Al-Shorfa: Why do you insist on classifying your poetry as love poetry rather than ghazal?

Zahi Wehbe: It is well-known that ghazal refers exclusively to descriptions of the beloved, whether a man or a woman. [Ghazal] is far removed from descriptions other human qualities these people possess, which are far broader than [physical] features. For this reason, I make sure to include a human description of both sexes in my poetry, since I do not believe there is a vast gulf between them, as appears in some works of poetry. The characteristics of both men and women are more comprehensive and far-reaching than simply admiring the beloved.

Al-Shorfa: Does reciting poetry require talent or experience?

Wehbe: A poet should recite his own poetry because he is more capable of conveying the intended idea and expression. Several renowned poets, such as Ahmed Shawqi, the Prince of Poets, will not recite their own poetry but will have someone else take their place, for the ability to recite poetry is a blessing from God. I myself am devoted to reciting my own poetry.

Al-Shorfa: Has the media been the source of your fame as a poet or has your poetry made you a famous media personality?

Wehbe: I liken a person's life to a flowing river, which as it moves along, flows through many tributaries that make up the sum of its course. From the moment of birth until death, a human life is shaped by the experiences it undergoes. Media and poetry are among the tributaries that shaped me, but poetry has a special place because blank paper is the screen on which I can articulate everything that goes on in my deepest thoughts. I began [composing] poetry in my childhood, long before I had a media presence, but media contributed to widening its reach.

Al-Shorfa: At what point does a poet gain international recognition?

Wehbe: The more famous a poet becomes in his hometown, the closer he gets to international recognition. When someone opts for simplicity, chooses what deeply stirs him and combines that with a mastery of the concepts he works with, he is recognised by others regardless of their language and cultural background.

Al-Shorfa: You recently joined the Al-Mayadeen news channel, a decision some people criticised. How do you respond to that reaction?

Wehbe: My appearance on the programme "Beit al-Qaseed" on the Al-Mayadeen news channel is like a revival of the programme "Khaleek bil Beit", which was very successful and broadcast on Al-Mustaqbal television.

In "Beit al-Qaseed", I will present everything cultural, [a range of] personalities and subjects. To all those who challenge me on my decision to join Al-Mayadeen, because of its political background, I say am far from that.

On Al-Mayadeen, I will have the freedom to control the programme according to what is compatible with the show, regardless of anyone's political or ideological background. This was what I had with Al-Mustaqbal, which I left solely because I wanted to change its production and not because of any political dispute, as was rumoured.

Al-Shorfa: You have released several poetry collections through different publishing houses in the Arab world. Why haven't you established your own publishing house?

Wehbe: It is better for a poet to focus exclusively on his craft, so his mind is clear for his words and poet's notepad. For a poet's mood is what makes him creative, in conflict with the world of money and administration that requires constant attention and follow-up from the moment of printing until the final product is released, and beyond that. Marketing requires skill, which disrupts a poet or an artist's work. Because of this, I have not thought about having my own publishing house and rely on others for this task.

Al-Shorfa: What is in your home library?

Wehbe: I own more than 40,000 books I collected from all over the world. Books that address the nature of the countries I visit are tucked away in my library, since I started collecting them when I was 11 years old.

In my library, there is no ban on what comes in, but all my books are banned from going out. I am dreaming about setting up a library on my farm, carrying my mother's name, Rasail. She is the one who educated me and encouraged me to develop an interest in reading. I inherited all of my character traits from her.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    Jaza

    2012-6-23

    Lyrical poetry moved from portraying the beloved and its frank love depictions, portraying the woman’s attributes, to dealing with an idea, a vision, a symbol and a model. Thus, it has developed to include meditation, clairvoyance, passion, nostalgia, pain, hope, joy and sorrow. Lyrical poetry remained the main means to express poets’ emotions. The spreading of poetry and its relation to the national movement contributed to an increase of writing about poetry. This is what encouraged the poets and spread in the newspapers, magazines. Even the media have become interested in poetry. Poetry is the basis to achieve development in the country. It is the basis for learning the Arabic language in the right way. It is our Arabic heritage and we must preserve it. All Arab countries must encourage poets through holding fair competitions as we see in the neighboring Arab countries. However, such competitions need to be further disseminated so that talent will not disappear in the next generations. We must also provide a method to convey this artistic and distinguished form to the future generations.

  • حليم

    2012-6-23

    Poetry is life. It is the expression of pure feelings in its various manifestations of joy, sorrow, love and hatred, etc… This kind of poetry is the oldest form of poetry in Arabic literature. In fact, former poets used to convey a pure expression of these human feelings. They used to portray the poet’s self and feelings. It was also associated with music and singing since its inception. Thus, it was called lyrical poetry. This form of poetry was the focus of Arab poetry and contributed to its artistic development when it dealt with the theme of love, description, enthusiasm, eulogy, lamentation, satire, pride, asceticism and wisdom. Such a tendency enabled lyrical poetry to have an important, lively and beautiful legacy which is known as Arabic poetical works. Lyrical poetry continues to express the human self, its volatility, joys and sorrows to date. However, the cultural and intellectual developments have changed it. For instance, eulogy no longer deals with bravery and justice. It no longer sings of chastity and virtue. It has moved to depict and express the conscience of the nation and its exploits. It also deals with progress and prosperity, and calls to keep up the pace with the other nations.

  • فاروق

    2012-6-23

    Arabic poetry in this age needs a lot of concerns that are not meted out at the moment, due to lack of awareness in many Arab countries that do not have any interests in the educational aspect of Arabic. Particularly, that poetry is the origin of the Arabic language and that it contains the use of certain rhythm. Arabic poetry needs a lot of reforms, particularly in our time, because it faces the worst concerns. We don't even encourage our children or help them to be interested in poetry. We must increase the awareness of our sons towards poetry and its importance in our lives. That poetry is the basis of the Arab civilization; it must be preserved and cared for greatly. In particular, we need to have Arabic poetry for the development of the Arabic language. Unfortunately, many cultures have influence on the young people who no longer have any Arabic language skills and they are interested in other cultures more than their own, which puts this Arabic poetry in danger because many of the officials no longer follow any style in the development of that culture that is important in our lives. Officials should work on the development of the Arabic language to search for a lot of methods that are helping in the development of poetry and to encourage students and all those who have the talent for poetry to increase their creativity in this field. We need the existence of that culture, especially as a lot of other nationalities in the poor countries have a lot of young people who are interested in Arabic poetry and that makes a lot of Arab countries in the Arabian Gulf have recourse to make programs where they collect the talented and organize competitions with significant financial awards to encourage the existence of that culture in our homelands.

  • طارق احمد

    2012-6-17

    Arabic poetry was, and still is in many cases, the lungs with which poets breathe their freedom to express themselves and to think and formulate their opinions in eras when there were no means of communication other than poems. Even in an age when the media has become so prevalent and imposing, many Arab poets cannot find what they are looking for in these media, and this is because most of their activities revolve around politics and hence do not have many things in common with the ideas of these poets. We have to point out here that we are not talking about poets that have been allowed to publish their works in one way or another, but instead we are focusing on the thousands of poets that are thinking and expressing their inner thoughts by means of poetry and yet they have not been given the opportunity to publish their works. Our talk about poetry leads us to talk about the status of the Arab poet. He is the voice of his people, and their leader, and he speaks on their behalf, in their tongue, and he shares the same experiences and conditions with them, and he defends them. In short, he was one of them, and for them. He spoke the truth to them, and they were true to him in their feelings and experiences, because he would not drag them into the abyss, and he would not make them engage in futility and meaninglessness, and he would not lead them into the abyss of ambiguity, superstitions, witchcraft and talismans. Instead he would lead them to those places that are illuminated by his poems. What we have talked about has to do with the status and credibility of the poet, but also, we cannot ignore the foundation upon which Arabic poetry is based, and we mean by this eloquence, rhetoric (Balagha), Bayan and Ma’ani (both branches of the science of rhetoric), and other such things, which are indicative of finesse, grace, expressiveness, virility, strength, beauty, metaphorical expressions, imagination, wisdom and philosophy. This is the Arabic poetry that we have inherited from our culture and which has nested in our memories throughout the centuries, and we are still living in all its nuances that have become glued to us and deeply ingrained in the innermost corners of our emotions, and intertwined with our feelings and sentiments. We are not denying that poetry is a living thing that undergoes changes and development in accordance with the various circumstances and changing conditions, but perhaps it is less affected by change than other things, or in a slower manner, because change usually occurs in the content and in the depiction of the current situation and all new developments.

  • غانم فارس

    2012-6-17

    Arabic poetry has been the subject of much consideration on the part of researchers, critics and poets, and it is an issue that addresses the topics of modernity and traditionalism in both form and content, and in other terms, the decisive struggle between those that are in favor of its arabization or westernization. The first group insists on preserving its nationalist identity and its Arab roots, whereas the second group demands that it joins the bandwagon of modernity, which is based on stripping it of all its basic elements of independence and its peculiar features and its uniqueness, and consecrate it as a subordinate element of western culture. Just as a reminder, we have to point to the main features of Arabic poetry, the knowledge and its peculiar attributes, which the common Arab mind has understood throughout its long history, and which is represented by the poem, and which is based on rhyme as its musical construct. This is in relation to its form, but as for the content and the aims behind the poems, Arabic poetry used to be simple, addressing a topic and situation that was common at the time in a sound Arabic language, close to the intellect of those that listened to it, and these people were endowed with a sensitive nature and an extraordinary capability for appreciation and they engaged in simple criticism, as determined by the circumstances of the listeners, and the environment in which they lived. These poems were straightforward, and they did not involve any manipulations or crookedness, and their paths were paved for the ears and hearts of their listeners, and that is how Arabic poetry and poems used to be.

  • غالب احمد

    2012-6-16

    As for the purposes of poetry, it is not far from expressing the general conditions that prevail and is, in general, portraying the social, cultural, political, economic, and intellectual conditions. It did not leave this frame despite the fact that the Arabs mingled with many nations who translate their creativity and cultural civilization into Arabic. Arabic poetry was not affected by others and their poetry. Arabic poetry depended on itself to extreme limits. It was confident of its steps and has deep roots in the ground and history. Pride and affiliation to Arab poetry occupies a prominent place among the Arabs. It was said that it was and still the "Court of the Arabs." Some ancient civilizations were known for their legal accomplishments or medicine, sculpture, philosophy, or the theater. The Arabs are known through their poetry with its rhymes and music that form one tissue that is rarely found in the other nations and from here, poetry has gained singularity, uniqueness, and excellence in this area.

  • فاضل

    2012-6-16

    Free verse was generated by motives and reasons that combined together and prepared for its birth, like other literary patterns that generate from the ruins of theirpredecessors after they have become old fashioned and aged and eventually become a thing of the past and probably convoyed it and went at its side as long as each one has specific features. Its supporters, corroborators, many researchers and critics have claimed that the most important factors that helped the emergence of free verse and paved the way for it are, in essence, due to social and other psychological motives in the first plac,e along with some other factors stemming from their predecessors. The standard Arabic poetry in the Arab world is still preserving its foundations and the Arab world still has a great stock of reputable names in the world of poetry among the major and young poets who have completed the path of the pioneers in the field of the standard Arabic poetry. There are several classical writings and beautiful poems that are printed from time to time and classical poetry is very well known. The Arab countries in the Middle East, in particular, have the greatest classical poets among the Arabs and there is a large interest in poetry and poets. There are festivals that are held from time to time to show the talents of the young people and encourage them, and there are great rewards for those poets among the participants. There is a new generation of young poets who are on the way to completing the road and the pace of the pioneers, so that classical poetry would continue in its nice level, its words, beautiful rhythms and rhymes; there are young names that began writing very nice words but the current problem is that most of the younger generation is attracted to general poetry and this is because of the lack of classical poets. It is true that they are talented but they are few and this problem must be addressed. We must give more attention to classical poetry and work on the establishment of festivals constantly that are specialized in classical poetry and develop it.

  • زياد جمال

    2012-6-16

    The free verse, before its beginnings in the fifties took different names and patterns that were being discussed by critics and researchers. They have named it the free verse and the poetry of anapests. But after the fifties, it has been named in its harbingers since the thirties as the emanating synecdoche verse and the emanating synecdoche regulation. It was called by the name of free verse and the strangest names proposed by some critics would be to call the branch inspiring this naming from the world of nature and not from the world of art because this poetry contains in itself a natural variation in length as in the case of the tree and the tree plays an important role in the symbols and rituals, humanitarian attitudes and artistic scenes.

  • حسين خالد

    2012-6-16

    Free verse deals with the expression of the real suffering of the poet from the reality experienced by the tortured humanity. The poem is an independent humanitarian experience in itself and poetry is not just a collection of emotions, feelings, imagination, and linguistic structures only. In addition to that, it is an expressive energy that all the human capacities and capabilities together are involved in creating. Also, its themes are the themes of daily life; those topics that reflect ordinary shots that evolve through natural determinism to become an organic creature that is making a vital function in society. The most important of these issues is what reveals falsehood, deceit, underdevelopment, hunger, disease, and pushing the people to change for the better and its features. The literary and critical researches that have been carried out about the concept of poetry and its essence have confirmed that this poetic color did not arise from a vacuum but is a confirmed rule in all the things that fall under the law of being and nothingness. Every process of creating or existence has components and motives that pave the way for its presence and promise its birth. It is also a must to have an appropriate and healthy environment where this object or another is growing. Poetry is like a living creature that is borne young and then gets tougher and strengthens the dynamism of childhood and youth, and finally grows older over time and the aging of the covenant, although in the end, it does not die like the other living creatures but remains immortal forever except for what was not worth living. It would vanish as things are eroded, wear out and then destroyed without leaving a trace or mark a fingerprint of his presence.

  • المتنبي

    2012-6-16

    In general, poetry is considered a difficult and very special form of literature and therefore, it needs people who have the talent first, and then the eloquence and knowledge of the meanings and the rules of Arabic secondly. We do not find this in many of those who write poetry in classical Arabic in the present day as we note that they are committing linguistic and grammatical errors that are considered a disaster because the poet should be one of the educated people and the intelligentsia and he must be versed in the manners of poetry and have a large and sufficient vocabulary background. He should formulate his ideas of poetry in the correct Arabic language, free of melody and error, but there are some poets who write standard Arabic, have the talent and are aware of the rules and grammar and for this reason, we see that their poetry is characterized by sobriety and substance which touch the conscience of the listeners because they mimic feelings through correct, elegant and understandable words. Therefore, I find myself biased about writing poetry in classical Arabic at the expense of the free verse or of the other types of literature like free poetry or prose or novels of all kinds. The free verse is a kind of poetry built according to the rules of the poetic meter of the Arabic poem and adheres to them. The poetic meter does not violate them in terms only of form and freedom from one rhyme; in most cases, the poetic meter exists and the trochee is fixed with a difference in the external shape, not more. If the poet wanted to write a poem according to a specific meter, he must adhere to this meter in his poem and its anapests from the opening lines to the end. He does not have the freedom, only non-compliance to the system of the traditional verse and the standard rhyme. If the issue does not prevent the emergence of rhyme and its disappearance from time to time as required by the musical tone and the end of emotional splash, the hemistiche is the foundation on which the poem is built and some critics see that we should dispense with naming the poetic hemistiche with the poetic line. He has the freedom to choose the number of anapests in one part, according to the emotional stream for him also.