Poetry News

Kaveh Akbar Reads "Palmyra" at PBS NewsHour

By Harriet Staff

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On PBS NewsHour the poet behind the literary interviews hub Divedapper, Kaveh Akbar, reads his poem written in response to the beheading of Syrian archeologist Khaled Al-Asaad. "The piece began, in part, with the idea of “wonder” — where it comes from, who creates it and who would want to fight it, Akbar said." More:

On May 13, the Islamic State began an offensive to invade the city of Palmyra, demanding the location of the city’s most valuable ancient treasures.

Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad refused to reveal the information. He had spent more than five decades leading excavations in the ancient city, uncovering previously-unseen residential areas, tombs and religious sites. In August, he was beheaded.

This story is “everybody’s grief,” poet Kaveh Akbar told me. Reading about al-Asaad in August, Akbar said he was gripped by the story for weeks.

In his poem “Palmyra,” Akar bears witness to al-Asaad’s legacy and examines the forces that killed him by providing brief, vivid flashes of the scene of his death.

“This poem is an instance where I’m kind of cracking open the window and looking at, for as long as I can bear it, what is physically unbearable,” he said.


“Here is this man who has spent literally decades preserving artifacts — preserving physical manifestations of human wonder and human awe — and then there are these [people] who are seeking to destroy the history of that wonder that he preserved,” he said. “Any sincere interrogation of wonder, any celebration of wonder, has to account for those forces that would conspire against it.”

Listen to Kaveh Akbar read his poem, "Palmyra," at NewsHour. And while you're at it, check out the latest at Divedapper: an interview with Sharon Olds.

Originally Published: January 5th, 2016