What is your connection with the Middle East? The editor of The Arab Review asks me when considering my poem for publication. I wrote It's The Right Thing To Do on the bus to work, down a long London street of local shops, looking out the window at women wearing the full burqa. I think a woman has a right to wear a burqa to express her faith, just as another woman has the right to wear a miniskirt to express herself. But what I find difficult to understand, is how it has come to be believed that the face, clearly designed for communication and interaction, should only be revealed in private. And why is it only a woman's face that is inappropriate for public viewing? Obviously, it is in the reaction of the beholder. But when does the beholder take responsibility for his actions? Can these questions really be down to cultural insensitivity? And in the situation where the burqa is an enforced rule rather than a choice, where is a woman's refuge when she does not want to comply? You only have to read your local newspaper to answer that question... No connection to the Middle East I reply. Just London living.
Today I was supposed to be working on some poems - competition deadlines loom and I'm also editing Orla's Code at the moment but that's a topic for another blog update. Instead I am taking the opportunity to read through the impressive, culturally rich Arab Review. I love this poem by Mahmoud Darwish: I Do Not Sleep To Dream. There are a lot of poems about sadness and loss but this one has something so visceral about it - maybe because it's so physical. Or maybe it's physicality is accentuated because it is written by a man from a woman's point of view. There's so much going on in this journal - fiction, interviews, photography, travel reports... I really like this article about the Egyptian grafftii that tells the story of the revolution: Street Art And The City. And I thought this was an interesting, sober report on the Syrian conflict, by way of book review: Taking the future into their own hands. And of course there's the poignant I Wore The Veil by Farah Chamma.