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by Kareem Fahim and Nawara Mahfoud
DAMASCUS, Syria — Lukman Derky, the host of a weekly poetry salon here, was in classic form, a beer perched below a microphone he used to joke, to soothe, to provoke. He read a short poem by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national bard, and gave a shout-out to a regular, a young American named Mitch, who sat in the crowd, among dozens of other foreigners. “We brought you an imperialist,” Mr. Derky kidded his audience. “So you would have some peace of mind.”
He also politely apologized to any secret policemen he might have offended with one of his stories. Two men who fit that description, sitting at a table by the bar, quietly sipped their drinks. So it goes on Monday nights at Bayt al-Qasid, or the House of Poetry, a space for freewheeling expression in a country where that space is usually in short supply.