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Maged Zaher Might Spend Stranger Money On Hookers

By Harriet Staff

maged zaher

–though, most likely not. Well, who knows. Either way, check out this fantastic article by Paul Constant with Q+A by the recent winner of a “Stranger Genius Award.” (That’s our friend and a regular comedian, Maged Zaher, of course.)

HAS WRITTEN POEMS ABOUT: Helicopters, investment bankers, ancient Arab poets, revolution, porn.

SAYS WHEN HE’S WRITING IN EGYPT, HIS POEMS: “Start to be about dust and walking and tea. Once you see dust and tea, you know I am in Cairo.”

WILL USE HIS GENIUS AWARD MONEY TO: “Pay the rent and the house insurance, and I think I might support the publishing and translation of some young Egyptian poets.” Or maybe: “I’m just going to spend it on hookers. If you read my poetry, you know that’s where I’m going to spend it. Strip clubs.”

If you’re looking for an introduction to what Maged Zaher is like as a human being, you probably couldn’t find a better example than the 60 seconds after Ellen Forney announced him as the winner of the 2013 Genius Award for literature. The first thing he did was hug Willie Fitzgerald, one of the organizers of the APRIL literary festival, a fellow finalist. Then he hugged his way down the aisle, targeting other APRIL organizers. He climbed the stairs to the stage, and then he dove into the thick of the Seattle Rock Orchestra mid-song and hugged a friend of his who was trying to play violin at the time. Then he hugged me (Zaher gives heavenly hugs; he encompasses your whole body in a warm cocoon as he murmurs appreciative words in your ear) and he hugged Forney. Then he gave a generous acceptance speech, calling fellow finalist Neal Stephenson “a true genius,” recited a poem, and took a shot of vodka, straight.

Zaher is a lover, an all-inclusive, bighearted poet who can’t wait to laugh and pull you close and whisper affections. This doesn’t mean he’s always polite—one of his first actions with the Genius Award finalist “bully pulpit,” as he describes it, was to call out poetry publisher Wave Books on Facebook for not publishing more multicultural poets—but it does mean that he’s interested in finding common ground. “Poetry was never a popular genre,” a “slightly hungover” Zaher says in a post-awards phone interview. “It needs to reach. If someone needs to teach literature to understand your poem, we are in trouble.” He often bristles at the contemplative, vaguely mystical air that some poets take a whole life to cultivate, often to the exclusion of other moods. “Poetry can be exhilarating, like Frank O’Hara,” Zaher says. “Poetry can make us exciting.” He’s quick to add that he doesn’t just place the blame for poetry’s relative obscurity on the part of poetry; education has failed, too: “People who have bachelor’s degrees should be able to read and enjoy poetry.” But though it’s not the most popular form of literature, Zaher thinks “the poet is a revered kind of artist. Like whenever someone wants to say something is wonderful, they say, ‘Oh my God, this is like poetry.'”

More from Maged Zaher and Paul Constant at The Stranger.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by Harriet Staff.