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Syria's underground poetry scene

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It is Monday night in the basement bar of the Fardoss Tower Hotel in Damascus and a packed audience is getting restless. Local poet, journalist, and playwright Luqman Derki takes to the podium. Silencing the crowd with a glare, he begins to recite an ode to love and loss.

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Welcome to Beit al-Qasid (house of the poet), Mr. Derki’s weekly poetry night. What began informally in 2006 is now a phenomenon attracting hundreds.

“The main idea was to take poetry out of its typical setting,” says Derki. “Poetry evenings can be so boring, so I decided create something free and exciting.”

Each week he throws the microphone open to any poet or musician brave enough to accept the challenge in front of a heckling crowd. Language is no barrier. “My aim is to introduce people to the best of other cultures,” Derki says. “And always the best of other cultures is poetry.”