Britain has something to learn from the Arab world when it comes to appreciating our poets. This was the view of writer Fiona Sampson when I spoke to her in the run-up to Poetry International 2010, the Southbank Centre’s biennial festival that’s been running since 1967, when Ted Hughes was curator and Allen Ginsberg nearly set the place on fire with incense sticks.
The cold war was the political backdrop to that first event, while this year’s festival focuses on the middle east and in particular Israel-Palestine. There will be appearances by Palestinian-American hip hop poets and the celebrated Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti, who will be joined onstage by his son Tamim, a political scientist as well as a poet.
Sampson, whose latest collection, Rough Music, is up for this year’s TS Eliot Prize, was chosen to read at the festival’s opening night on Saturday by the Palestinian-American poet (and doctor) Fady Joudah. The event, called “Times They Are a Changing,” will see four writers associated with the middle east reading alongside the British authors they admire.