Linda Cleary is in Cairo for the long haul. A native of Manchester, England, the poet, writer and artist visited Cairo five times before taking up residence in Dokki 15 months ago. From her first visit, Cleary has become a fixture in local arts circles, quickly connecting with established artists, writers and gallerists while building a student following amongst a growing group of young Egyptians eager to explore their creative potential.
A veteran of the performance poetry circuit in the United Kingdom, Cleary was immediately attracted to the “on the brink” quality of Cairo’s arts scene when she first visited. “I met many artists when I first visited and I really liked what was happening on the local scene; there was some quite radical stuff,” Cleary told Daily News Egypt.
“What I liked about Egypt was it had an aspect of not being open to the market yet; artists here are successful and travel and exhibit internationally, but there is still something about the work produced here that has an un-bastardized truth to it,” she said.
Despite success with a performance poetry show that took her around the United Kingdom and various European cities, Cleary never felt that her avant-garde, neo-romantic aesthetic was fully understood or accepted in circles that leaned more towards slam or comic styles.
“I decided to give up on the national tour and idea of fame in the UK to expand my own work and live,” she explained. “I have found a lot of acceptance and opening here; it’s been really amazing. My writing has opened up in new directions and I continue to meet people here that inspire me.”
In Cairo, Cleary has gained the artistic space to fully develop her own work. Although her background is in theater and she has worked with installation art, poetry remains her passion.
“I always come back to poetry because, basically I’m a poet; it’s just where I sit with my thoughts,” she said.
“I find it hard to speak in a straightforward manner, so I speak through images and metaphors. I exist in a world where shapes, sensations and colors inform me, so it seems natural that I tend towards poetry.”
Cleary created Up On The Roof, a monthly open stage night at Darb 1718, to provide a platform for creative performances in a city where many young artists don’t find opportunities to share their work in public. The popularity of these evenings and the quality of the work shown there underscores the feeling Cleary had about the local art scene. It also gives her a space to perform her poetry, performance being an integral aspect of her creative process.
“I like the immediacy of performance,” she said. “Performing poetry is about pace and tone and the rhythm and journey of a piece; you can have a poem that’s absolutely astounding and excellent on paper but read out loud it falls apart and vice versa.”
Bursting with plans and projects, Cleary seems poised to contribute much to nurturing the seeds of inspiration planted during the January 25 Revolution. With new creative writing courses beginning this month at both Darb 1718 and Diwan, plans to work with students to take their dramatic writing from paper to stage, and hopes for turning her home, which has already played host to 20 international artists, into a full-fledged artists’ residency, it is certain that Cleary is giving back at least as much as she has gained.
Although recent events have cast some aspects of life in Egypt in a different light, the unvarnished truth of the work coming out of Cairo continues to inspire and captivate Cleary. As she puts it, “whenever you see truth in work, that’s all you can hope for.”
And as long as there’s hope for truth, Linda Cleary can be found at home in Cairo, finding her voice in poetry, and helping others find theirs.
Linda Cleary’s monthly open stage event Up On The Roof takes place at Darb 1718 Culture Center on April 7 at 7:30 pm.