Posted by: kshayes513 | May 9, 2009

City of Poets

I was skimming the headlines on Yahoo News this morning, when this one snagged me:

“Stability lets Basra, a city of poets, return to its roots”

“City of Poets” – now there’s an image to set a worldbuilder’s heart beating! The article  itself adds drama to the poetry:

Basra

Basra

“Basra, Iraq – At Al Rasheed radio, poet Khalid al-Mayahi leans into the microphone and pours out his heart to the city, using words that could have gotten him killed before Iraqi forces took back Basra last year from Shiite extremists.
“I am a monk for your love. I built the biggest church in my soul for you,” he recites, waving his arms with passion to echo the verses he’s written. The poignant improvisation of violinist Na’el Hamid next to him soars onto the airwaves. The announcer picks up a traditional Arabic oud to accompany them.
Oud (lute) player

Oud (lute) player

In this city, with its crumbling beauty and centuries of culture, the poetry and music that were driven underground when the militias were in charge are beginning to blossom again.
The live program is mesmerizing, and in this deprived city, it falls like a welcome rain. The phone lines light up with young women who want to share their own love poems; a poetry-loving police sergeant calls in to every show.” (Read the rest here)
(*images are not from the article, sources below)

It’s not only setting that you can take from these paragraphs, it’s circumstance. If war, tyranny or disaster strip away the arts, religion, or customs that give meaning and identity to people’s lives, how will they endure the loss? And when people see an opportunity to regain those freedoms, what will it mean to them? How will they react?

Thanks to this article, I have just glimpsed an ancient, unexplored  city somewhere in Khasran, perhaps  on the banks of a river or the shores of the Middle Sea, a place where people take life slowly and value the power of words, and take quarrels so seriously that they seldom allow them. No story yet, but I’m sure that will come in time.

If you want to see what a major writer does with a setting and a situation like these, read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Voices.

*Image sources: Basra palace; Oud player

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