Ghada Alatrash performs the poetry of her native Syria at the French Cultural Centre

Pure poetry: A B.C. woman with an insider’s view on Syria

Ghada Alatrash lives in Cranbrook, grew up in Syria and shares her views on life and love and country through the writing of her homeland

  • May. 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A picture isn’t always worth a 1,000 words in Ghada Alatrash’s view.

The Syrian-Canadian writer and translator says there are times when we become so desensitized to the images we see in the news that listening to the contemplative, deep wisdom found in an artist’s words or music.

“I see audience members closing their eyes and listening and absorbing the music.

“A lot of audience members come out with bloodshot eyes because of how moved they are—how powerful music and poetry can be,” she said.

Her poetry to music presentation comes to Kelowna’s French Cultural Centre this June and will likely be performed in Victoria and Nelson in the coming months, following a presentation at a translator’s conference in the United States.

Alatrash uses the poems and that music of her homeland to show people in her new country the great artistry overlooked by North American popular culture.

“There is an almost total absence of Arab culture and music in the West. On our stages you do hear Beethoven, you do hear Bach, but the opposite does not hold true,” she said. “And it is so amazing.”

From musicians like Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and Iraqi Naseer Shamma to Najat Abdul Samad, a Syrian novelist and physician, her show highlights the limitless possibility that appreciating an amalgam of east and west allows.

“You don’t see a teenager here reciting a poem, which is so unfortunate,” she said.

When poetry is put to music, throughout the Middle East, it’s easy to recite and sing and pass on from generation to generation—along with its meaningful emotions and message.

“Poets take you into a very deep world of thought,” she said. “…I love Western music, but what they’re reciting is not actually the deepest thoughts.”

Making these connections, filling in the culture gap may also have a side benefit of helping the outside world connect with the people of Syria, empathize and spur a desire to help.

For many years, Alatrash was able to spend summers in her homeland, but she has not dared  return to the country in the two years since the Arab Spring ignited conflict through the region.

Every morning she wakes up to Facebook images of dead children, wound together in “great clumps of human suffering,” and says she’s very doubtful most Canadians even realize the extent of the atrocities.

“A Canadian is someone who stands wholeheartedly for animal rights. That’s what Muhatma Ghandi said. A nation is judged by how it treats its animals,” she said. “I tend to believe Canadians can’t know what is happening there.”

She is shocked by the indifference she’s seen around the world, and while she knows it was the same for places like Rwanda during its genocide, she cannot help but use her art, and the art of others, to help remove the blinders.

But the performance is by no means doom and gloom. Among the 12 poems she will recite is one she wrote from the heart about her daughter, and another one about the doubts of a mother.

There will be a newly released poem from an undisclosed Syrian poet and a selection from Lebanese-American poet Youssef Abdul Samad. Alatrash has just published translations of a selection of his poems.

She lives in Cranbrook, and will perform her evening of poetry and music Saturday, June 1 beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the French Cultural Centre, corner of Bernard and Richter in Kelowna.

Just Posted

3% tax hike proposed in West Kelowna

Proposed provisional budget tax hike in line with recent annual increases in the city

Okanagan robbery suspect sought

RCMP are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying a suspect in an… Continue reading

11-year-old water quality advisory lifted in Glenmore

Glenmore-Ellison Improvement District says Interior Health gave the green light to lift advisory

Site C dam goes ahead, cost estimate now up to $10.7 billion

Premier John Horgan says Christy Clark left him no other choice

Eyes on Kelowna’s crime hotspots considered in budget

If you felt like someone was watching as you were out and about this summer, you may be right.

Crook’s Corner

A slice of this week’s arts and entertainment happenings in the North Okanagan at a glance

B.C. overdose deaths surpass 1,200

96 people died of illicit drug overdoses in October

A classic Christmas play with a Kelowna twist

Scrooge is transported to Kelowna in New Vintage Theatre’s new holiday play, opening Wednesday

Crown appeals stay against Jamie Bacon in Surrey Six killings

B.C.’s prosecution service says judge’s decision reveals ‘errors of law’

Feds agree to give provinces 75 per cent of pot tax revenues

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the agreement today

Attempted murder charge up in the air after victim’s death

Without Thomas Szajko’s testimony, alleged shooter Afshin Ighani could get off on that charge

Red Scorpion associates cuffed in drug-trafficking bust

Kamloops RCMP lay charges in connection to Red Scorpion drug trafficking ring

Merry lottery win for Shuswap man

Five-dollar scratch ticket a $100,000 winner for Sicamous resident

Woman sought in Kamloops stabbing

Kamloops RCMP are looking for the woman they believed stabbed a man on Sunday

Most Read