Qalandiya International, the new biennial art fair which celebrates contemporary Palestinian art and culture, hosts award-winning wordsmith Zuhair Abu Shayeb, as he reads from his contemporary poetry on 12 November 2014, in Ramallah, Palestine/West Bank.

Poetry and the art of words

In the Arab world, words are an art form as indispensable as that which is made with hands or voice. In the context of anywhere in the Middle East, one might immediately think of the art made of words, as in this piece by Ibrahim Abu Touq, who with contemporary Arabic calligraphy, transforms poet Zuhair Abu Shayeb’s name into a striking graphic (above).

In the second edition of Qalandiya International 2014 biennial art fair, poet Zuhair Abu Shayeb’s art is within the words and placed alongside equally evocative work by sculptors, painters, and other makers.

A reader new to Abu Shayeb’s work might anticipate contemporary Palestinian poetry to stay in the realm of politics and borders or scenes of mothers weeping and rejoicing over favoured sons, moments captured as in this short piece titled, “Martyrs”:

so they stitched together rose petals for a shroud
and smoothed out the sky to keep him warm
and for a pillow, they lifted down the sun
and laid it beneath his head.*

*Excerpt from “Martyr”, translated by John Glenday, in “A Bird is not a Stone

Yet it is more; fellow Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti says of Abu Shayeb’s work that it more often than not has  “abandoned the heroic tone… that plague[s] modern Arabic poetry. His is a poetry of coughs and headaches – the daily pains of the individual”^; as in the beginning words of “A Fifth Direction”, in which the poet seems to lament the passing of seasons:

beneath the frost there is the possibility
of warm blood
like a prayer**

^Interview with Maya Jaggi for the Guardian, 13 December 2008.
**Excerpt from “A Fifth Direction”, translated by Tom Pow, in “A Bird is not a Stone

And similar melancholy in the passage of time and one’s youth is heard in “Wolf-Scent”, where Abu Shayeb wonders “whose white hair now covers my head” even as, once, he was a wolf “sent into the night”. He then speaks of “abandoned hope”, the image of which

No Woman has shone upon me yet
And no bird has built from her feathers
A heaven with two wings***

***Excerpt from “Wolf-Scent”, translated by Henry King, in “A Bird is not a Stone

For certain, the context of being Palestinian is never far from these poems. Yet even if the reader is not from this tiny sliver between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, any person can still borrow from a Palestinian poet something of shared humanity, filled with hope and fear, longing and defeat, sorrow and love.

About Zuhair Abu Shayeb

On 12 November 2014 as part of QI 2014 special events, Zuhair Abu Shayeb will read from his work, some of which is included in “A Bird is Not a Stone”, a recent anthology of contemporary Palestinian poetry published in 2014.

Author and educator, Zuhair Abu Shayeb. Image courtesy
Author and educator, Zuhair Abu Shayeb. Image courtesy

Abu Shayeb has often been recognised for his writing, most recently, winning the Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity in 2012, and acting on the selection committee for “A Dialogue with Memory”, the 1st edition of Mamanilla Poetry Festival in Jerusalem last year [2013].

Abu Shayeb obtained his BA degree in Arabic Literature from Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan, in 1983 and is currently the Art Director and Editor for Arab Institute for Research and Publishing in Amman, Jordan.



More links and information

“A Bird is Not a Stone” – Palestinian poetry (including work by Zuhair Abu Shayeb)





 Mamanilla International Poetry Festival – Jerusalem (25-27 October 2013)


Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity – 2012


Event details: Zuhair Abu Shayeb’s poetry reading and artist talk is scheduled for 12 November 2014, 18:00-19:00PM, at Ramallah Public Library, 23 Al-Nuzha St., Ramallah, Palestine/West Bank. Supported by Qalandiya International and Ramallah Municipality.

Qalandiya International
Qalandiya International