You couldn’t have asked for a better setting – five talented, varied poets reading selections of their award-winning works in a desert camp under the night sky. There was a big crackling fire, regional bites and oud instrumentals wafting from the speakers.
It is no wonder that since the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature launched its Desert Stanzas programme in 2013, each edition of the one-night-only event has sold out.
Up to 200 people were driven to the camp – Al Maha resort, Dubai – in six buses. Headlining this year’s edition was another eclectic bunch. They included the Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, Jamaica’s rising literary star Kei Miller, the Syrian poet and screenwriter Adnan Aloda, American professor and Arabist Michael Cooperson and Emirati talent and Million’s Poet finalist Zainab Al Balooshi.
It was Beck who began the evening, her selection a fine representation of her work, tackling themes of loss, displacement and family.
There Was and How Much There Was found her recalling her childhood fandom of the pioneering Egyptian actress Hind Rustom.
This is a Message from my Aunt on her Son’s Death Anniversary is a penetrating sketch on grief based on the title’s character use of an orange as a emoticon.
“[She] remembers how she used to sing me that song where I was the orange she wanted to peel and eat and not share with anyone,” Beck read.
“Remembers how much I love sour, winter oranges. The way they are round and whole, yet break into the many bright crescents hidden beneath her skin.”
Miller’s readings focused on a painful period of his homeland’s history.
In Place Name: Oracabessa, he details the arrival in Jamaica of explorer Christopher Columbus, heralding the start of the Spanish bloody rule of the island in the 16th century.
“Bananas bursting out of red flowers, though this too is disputed – not the flowers – but the origin of bananas. They may have come here with Columbus on a ship that in 1502 slipped into Oracabessa the way grief sometimes slips into a room.”
Desert Stanzas also provided a chance for literary fans to meet some of the visiting authors in a more intimate setting.
British perfumer Jo Malone, who was at the festival to discuss her memoir Jo Malone: My Story, was found near the stage chatting away in the crowd.
Other literary figures spotted were British author and adventurer Sarah Outen and children’s authors Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.