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Portrait of a friend

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of luminary poet Amal Donqul, he is remembered by his friend.

I first saw Amal Donqul in 1972. I was still an adolescent in love with his first book, Weeping between the Arms of Zarqaa Al Yamama. I was too young then to form critical grounds for my admiration of the book, which amounted to a kind of hero-worship of its writer. Now I know to a great extent why I loved that book.

It was a kind of poetry that boldly explored untrodden possibilities of expression, and firmly planted Donqul’s flag of discovery, to last forever as its sole proprietor, owner and conqueror. I can expand on this, to point out the various poetic discoveries of Donqul. But I have already digressed.

To go back to my first encounter, I was a little disappointed, though somehow mysteriously attached. I saw a silent man, and if he said something, he did in so low a voice that it was difficult to make out what he was saying. But when he recited his poem Psalms, the first part about Alexandria, his almost silent incantation was so sweet it was like magic.

A year later I started to explore downtown Cairo. And since Donqul was the "vagabond King" of downtown cafés, I had to present him with my new, steadfast and eternal allegiance. Or let us say that I loved the man, that he was one of my poetic mentors, so I became one of his fan-friends in Souq el-Hameediyya and then "rich" cafes.

I didn’t stay for long, but in the year or two I befriended him, I discovered that underneath his famous aggressiveness and skirmishes with his fellow writers and patrons of cafes, there was a tender and a fatherly attitude and unending hunger for love, and a safe harbor for a man who spent most of his life wide at sea.

The writer is prominent vernacular poet and the culture editor at Al-Ahram daily newspaper.

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