In the war-torn Lebanon city, a monthly event that celebrates poetry and its healing powers. 'There was Shelley, Hikmat, there was a touch of feminist poetry, Arab poetry, Palestinian poetry, Darwish, Pablo and one was told that even Faiz and Sahir had made it to the long list on previous occasions'.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city. It has a famous port, plenty of ancient monuments and above all the Mediterranean Sea lapping at the foothills of mountains. But what is not known outside is a virtual cave with a small garden in the midst of a residential area where, once a month, a few poets and lovers of poetry have an international poetry session. I received a special invitation to participate in one of their sessions. The invitation, titled “A Measure of Splendour”, read: “Come and read your favourite poems and listen to others performing their favourite poems – in whatever language you choose. This will be an evening of enjoying the poems for the fun of hearing them aloud”.

I decided to taste the waters of this little publicised domain which allowed the young and the old from various communities and countries to share a fraternal atmosphere, puffing mint-perfumed hukkas known as sheesha or arguile. The poetry session was in the basement, the cave. So down and down we went to the Cava Minos. Before us was a gathering comprising Italians, Palestinians, local professors, Arabs, politicos, Englishmen and Indians, to name just a few. The atmosphere was totally informal and we introduced ourselves.

What one got to hear was indeed beyond our wildest expectations. There was Shelley, Hikmat, there was a touch of feminist poetry, Arab poetry, Palestinian poetry, Darwish, Pablo and one was told that even Faiz and Sahir had made it to the long list on previous occasions. Each poem was listened to earnestly with a few comments in a variety of languages and there were a few attempts at translation too. All this, in the midst of food, drinks and dim lights. The recitation, in some cases declamation, lasted almost three hours. And then the parting compliments and jibes, hugs and embraces?

A new beginning

The Cava, we were told, was created after the recent civil war in Lebanon that destroyed much of the area. Much of the earlier throbbing life was missing, with the restaurants, pubs and meeting places gone in the El Mina area. In December 2005, the Cava was born with just 15 people attending. As it became popular and more people started attending, the Cava Grande was born in the summer of 2008. And so poetry nights every first Wednesday of the month became a reality. Unnoticed by many, a corner had been created to celebrate evenings of togetherness, where people from various lands meet and depart peacefully.