Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review: What Happened to Poetry? (VHS) by Hamza Yusuf

Hamza Yusuf. What Happened to Poetry? VHS Tape: Running Time-48 mins. 2001.

I purchased this tape from This is the direct link to the product. The order was fulfilled properly.

The VHS cassette came in a generic Alhambra Productions cover, and a simple label identifies the tape.

The web site calls this tape “a discourse on the disappearance of poetry.” It’s a very appropriate description, in the sense that Shaikh Hamza is not presenting a historical analysis of the disappearance of poetry nor an in-depth literary study of poetical forms. Rather, he uses the occasion of a conference on Jalaluddin Al-Rumi to discuss certain themes common to many of his talks:

Consumerism as a substitute for truly living
The importance of the student/teacher relationship
God being the only thing really worth talking about and knowing

Shaikh Hamza claims that poetry is incongruous with the “modern” world because it is passionate. The modern world promotes the antithesis of passion, melodrama. This melodrama substitutes for thinking and allows people to ignore the incongruities of our leaders’ agendas and the subtle and not-so-subtle evil consequences of our own behavior.

Specifically for Muslims, this tape might answer questions like: What is Islam’s position on poetry? In other words, should a Muslim speak, hear and learn poems?

For non-Muslims, this tape might provide an insight on how Muslims can relate, through the Qur’an, very well to the high cultures of other civilizations. When Shaikh Hamza reads Fyodor Dostoevsky and Shakespeare, he sees their art as addressing the same concerns as God’s revelation, the Qur’an.

Finally, for those of you who are truly poets (Shaikh Hamza blasted my pretensions away about 10 minutes into the tape!), I believe you’ll enjoy how he talks about his experiences with people who really loved poetry, particularly his own father, who studied with Columbia University’s Mark Van Doren, and his Muslim teachers.

So of course the speaker jumps around, giving you delicious samples but not being able to give you a full serving! Of course this is frustrating for people who don’t like “discourses”, but one must recognize it as a limitation of the medium.

One bad thing about the tape’s production. For three short periods of time, fortunately lasting only seconds, the picture of the speaker at the podium is replaced by stills or footage. I don’t think it was well done.

Finally, the tape did not have the running time printed on it.

Last updated September 4, 2005.

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