The Middle Eastern Society: A Taste of Texts

Monday, 5th November 2012 Over 30 boys gathered for the Taste of Texts, the Middle Eastern Society's annual Arabic Declamation competition. Thanks to the kind hospitality of Durnford House (with Mr Oliphant-Callum kindly offering his living room as a venue, and house chef Phil Keen cooking up an array of delicious Moroccan dishes and Lebanese snacks), it was an even cosier affair than usual. All boys studying Arabic had prepared a poem of their choice (ranging from modern greats like Nizar Qabbani and Khalil Jibran to classical giants like Mutanabbi), though it was up to them on the night whether to step forward and declaim or sit back and follow along. In the end, 19 boys, including a number of courageous F Blockers, recited their poem, each amazing or amusing the audience in his own way. Jack Eastwood (TEJN) performed a vivid rendition of Ibn Arabi’s famous lines on the religion of love, earning him second place. Bonamy Meath Baker (RPDF) gave voice to the moving lament of a bird in a cage, and, after a lengthy process of adjudication, was awarded the Morrissey Arabic Declamation Prize. We were fortunate to be joined by a panel of OE Arabists (many of them Taste of Texts veterans), helping to create a warm and convivial ambiance. Charlie Lawrie (RDO-C 2011 – chair), Fitzroy Morrissey (KS 2010), Tariq Mir (SMM/RAAC 2011), Shahryar Islam (KS 2010) and Will Ryle-Hodges (RGGP 2011) had taken the train from Oxford or Cambridge; Alex Drapkin (MJLB 2006), Nick McBurney (MJLB 2006) and Xander Shaw (MNF 2007) had come over from their jobs in London. While they retired to deliberate, Mr Shirwani and Hussein Kanaan (JMO’B) kept the Society entertained with a string of jokes – in Arabic, of course. Fitzroy Morrissey then completed the evening with a passionate recital of some verses by Abu al-Hasan al-Shushtari, a thirteenth-century Andalusian mystic. Our thanks go to RDO-C and the whole Durnford House team, who were so generous with their hospitality, and to our adjudicators, who were so generous with their feedback and encouragement. A round of applause goes to all who participated.

Charles Park (PGW)