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The Literature Department and Westwood Branch Celebrate Muslim Poetry

Robert Anderson, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
Art Exhibit Flyer

Poetic Voices of the Muslim World, an exhibit and series of readings and performances celebrating the beauty and power of Muslim poetry ranging from ancient times to the 21st century, is currently being presented by Central Library's Literature and Fiction Department and the Westwood Branch Library.  Los Angeles Public Library is one of just six libraries in the U. S., and the only one west of the Mississippi, to be chosen to host this exciting initiative.

An 18-panel exhibit is on display in the Central Library atrium on floor LL1 through late May.  The panels highlight Muslim poetic traditions from four major languages--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu--and include the texts of poems from Asia, Africa, and diaspora communities in the United States, all complemented by striking photography and calligraphic masterworks. 

The Literature Department and the Westwood Branch are each presenting two programs tying in with themes of the exhibit and featuring poets, scholars, and musicians.  Westwood's first program, focusing on the writings of the classical Persian poet and mystic Rumi and featuring music adapted from his verse, was a great success, drawing approximately 100 attendees on a weekday evening.  Coming up on Saturday, April 6 at 2 p.m., Westwood will play host to Iranian-American poet, editor, and translator Persis Karim, who will read from her own poetry and discuss her work editing and translating poetry and prose by Iranian women.

The following Saturday, April 13, also at 2 p.m., the first of two programs will take place at Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium.  Kemal Silay, a "living encyclopedia" of Turkish verse, will speak on Poetry from Anatolia:  The Ottoman Lyric and the Turkish Folk Song.  Dr. Silay will focus on the Ottoman court poet Fuzuli, whose Leyla and Mejnun is the Muslim world's Romeo and Juliet; and on the Turkish vernacular sung poetry of 14th-century Anatolian troubadour Yunus Emre. 

The final program, on May 18 at 2 p.m. in the Taper Auditorium, is Words of Praise:  The Qasida.  The qasida is a long, rhymed ode common to Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu literature.  Dr. Michael Sells will discuss the remarkable richness of language and range of emotions evoked by Arabic Golden Age poets Imru al-Qays and al-Mutanabbi.  He will also describe how the qasida is still used today in forms as varied as political commentaries and village weddings.  His talk will be followed by a performance by renowned Palestinian-American musician Zafer Tawil and his ensemble.

Those who visit Central Library to view the Poetic Voices of the Muslim World exhibit should also plan on dropping by the Literature and Fiction Department on Upper Level 3, where we are featuring a display of poetry books by Asian, African, European, and American Muslims from our extensive collection.  A tie-in display entitled Muslim Journeys features a more general list of fiction and nonfiction titles selected by the American Library Association in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities to reflect the diversity of the Muslim experience past and present in the United States and around the world.

Poetic Voices of the Muslim World was developed by national literary center Poets House and folklore organization City Lore.  It is funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures program, with additional support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.  For more information, call the Literature and Fiction Department at 213-228-7334, or visit the companion website at