Finding peace through poetry

Finding  peace through poetry
Eminent Emirati poet Shihab Ghanem, who launched 'Poetic Hearts: Connecting Humanity' four years ago

Find out how some UAE residents are spreading love and harmony through a unique poetry symposium

By Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Fri 29 Jul 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 29 Jul 2016, 5:17 PM

It's a crazy world right now. Sometimes we feel like we are reaching the end of time. We need to find a way to stop the senseless killing of innocent people. We need to save this beautiful world," eminent Emirati poet Dr Shihab Ghanem said after this reporter asked him many a curious question on an event he has given his heart and soul to in recent years.
At a time when many feel like the world is bleeding due to forces bent on ending people's faith in humanity, Dr Ghanem is defying his age to inspire others not to lose hope. In 2012, his association with Soka Gakkai International Gulf gave birth to "Poetic Heart: Connecting Humanity", a poetry symposium that brings together poets from all over the world.
"It's a festival created to foster peace, love and harmony," Dr Ghanem said with a glint in the eye.
The symposium started on a modest note; in fact, their first year in 2012 at Knowledge Village had only seven poets and one musician. However, over the years it has grown into something truly special. Their fifth edition, held in February this year, saw 21 poets from all over the world participate in the one-and-a-half day event.  
"The response from people was so overwhelming that we had to move to a bigger auditorium [in Mamzar] for the third year in 2014," says Dr Ghanem. "This is something we want to nurture because in this world of violence, hatred and destruction, we need creative people to express themselves and make a contribution in the fight against negative elements.
"People forget politicians after a point of time but they never forget great writers. These people are beacon of hope," he adds. "You might question the relevance of poetry in today's technology-driven world. But in my opinion, poetry still has a big role to play. I am an engineer, but it's the poet in me that longs for peace and enlightenment!"
Incredibly, Dr Ghanem had not met Rakesh Tharoor, SGI Gulf general director, until five years ago. Now, it is their friendship that helped give birth to the beautiful event.  
 "Our biggest inspiration was Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International [SGI]," says Tharoor. "Dr Ikeda is a humanitarian, peace activist, philosopher, and a very passionate poet. In face, he was conferred the International Peace Poet Award in Dubai this year. So that helped Dr Ghanem understand Dr Ikeda immediately. The Poetic Heart: Connecting Humanity has given us a great platform to introduce Dr Ikeda to the Arab world. We also recognise that poetry is a very strong medium as it connects very well with Arab emotions."
Incredibly, it is the power of voluntarism that has served as the wings to the event's dream of taking a flight into a peaceful world. Members of SGI felt so passionately for the symposium that they opted to do the event themselves rather than hiring an event management company. This meant a lot of hard work for members who already had day jobs, but it also made the end result much sweeter.
"Soka Gakkai means value creation society and we believe this is an event that truly creates value," says Tharoor. "This is something that Dr Ikeda has been emphasising during his 65 years of committed effort Soka Gakkai's values to a global scale. And the values are nothing but promoting humanism. In fact, "Poetic Heart: Connecting Humanity" was the title of an article written by Dr Ikeda himself. He strongly believes that there is a poetic heart in every human being. While there are some who can express themselves, there are many who have the poetry in them but can't express it. It's about helping people find a way to express themselves."
They could not have chosen a better place to launch an initiative like this.
"Poetry to Arabs is of paramount importance. It's the most popular art form in the Arab world since the pre-historic time," Dr Ghanem said. "It continues to play a very important role. I have participated in many poetry events all over the world, but at the Poetic Heart, the goal is so much bigger. It's about upholding high ideals."
Another remarkable thing about the event is the participation of student poets.  This year, around 200 students from schools around the UAE sent their peace poems to the organiser. Of these, 12 were selected to recite their poetry at the event.
"Young students write such thought-provoking poems for peace. It proves that even in the age of technology, there is a thirst and hunger among the young ones for poetry," Dr Ghanem said. "Through this event, we have encouraged them to write for peace. These are the kind of values we want to create among the youth. It was so heartwarming to hear their poetic voice. It also shows that they have rejected all the negativity that is threatening to ruin the world."

The event this year also saw the participation of children with special needs. Some of them recited poems, and one even chose to play music.

Looking ahead, Dr Ghanem is confident that the event will keep growing. "Five years ago, nobody had even heard about Poetic Heart. Now it has been featured in some of the most widely-read Arabic papers around the world," he said.

"Of course, we will always welcome support from various organisations. But at the end of the day, it's an event run through voluntary work from SGI Gulf. And I will help SGI Gulf as long as my health allows me to because I want to see a better world - a world devoid of war.
"And I want to see more poems on peace. You know peace poetry is a very recent trend. It was only after World War I that poets began to write for peace. Previously there were so many great poets who glorified war. They were all romanticising war. But when the world war happened, people realised that war wasn't what they had read about in books. When they actually heard about the many horrors of war, suddenly they started denouncing it.
"So it's an irony that the world war gave birth to peace poetry," he says.

Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International
Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International

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