Composer Mohammed Fairouz

It’s premature to relegate poetry to mausoleums or crypts.  In some places in the world, people cry, break down and weep to poetry.  They lose it.  It happens in well-worn cafés in Middle Eastern cities like Cairo, Beirut and Marrakech when storytellers take the floor.  Same when fakirs near Karachi entrance crowds with their Sufi recitations. As people cast off their certainties, they open themselves.  They inhale and exhale through their emotional pores.

Would listeners of poetry in the US ever break down and cry? Probably not.  Their physical reactions would be more visceral, in your face, even violent.  That’s the language that curators and editors of poetry magazines use when describing their ideal experience.  They want poetry to knock their socks off (mild); shake them to their core, be blown away, be torched and tornadoed, be changed forever. Emily Dickinson may have established the esteemed American tradition when she said, “If I feel physically that the top of my head were taken off, I know it’s poetry.”

Composer Mohammed Fairouz reaches for the cleansing experience of poetry on his new album, Follow, Poet – deep emotive feeling rather than a Poltergeist 360 degree rotation of your head.  His work is an imaginative crossroads of culture and convivencia.  The classical musician sets the moving, inquiring poems of W. H. Auden, sung by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, to his percussive music. He records recitations of Seamus Heaney poems.

His love of Irish poets is fascinating for an American with Arab roots born in 1985.  He is cosmopolitan.  Fairouz drops in “found material” like a rapper, lines about the arts from a riveting speech of John F. Kennedy: “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

Isn’t the poet one who journeys and carries his or her truth to others?  In this way, Fairouz composes a five-part ballet to honor Anwar Sadat, the man who had the courage to cross cultures and recognize Israel. Fairouz also crosses borders.  In previous work, Symphony #3, Poems and Prayers, the composer began with Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and included lyrics by the Palestinian poets Fadwa Tuqan and Mahmoud Darwish, and Israeli poet Yehida Amichai.  He talks about his inclusive process in the following interview:

Fairouz closes his album with recitation of Auden’s journey from near cultural devastation to light, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”   The title comes from this stanza:

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice.


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