The words of the late Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish echoed in a packed hall yesterday at the launch of the first annual Dubai International Poetry Festival. The festival was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in the presence of more than 100 regional and international poets and writers from 45 countries. Jamal Khalfan bin Huwaireb, head of the festival's organising committee, said in his keynote address that the aim of the festival was to create an opportunity for poets from around the globe to meet. "Since the dawn of man, poetry has always been a mode of exchanging the highest ideals and building a common language between different cultures and people. In Arabic history, poetry has constantly provided the inspiration for making a unified stand," he said. Mr bin Huwaireb invited poets to use the platform of the festival to learn more about the contributions of stalwarts in Arabic poetry such as Ahmed bin Sulayem, Sultan al Owais and Hamad Bushhab. Pioneering poets such as Ismail Abu al Atahiyah and Abi Nuwas would be commemorated during the seven-day event, he said. An initiative of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, the festival was opened yesterday under the theme of "A thousand poets, one language". Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and chief executive of Emirates Group were also present, along with other dignitaries. "Poetry is among the most evolved of the arts and the strongest bridge between cultures. We believe that poetry can correct what politics has damaged," said Mr bin Huwaireb. The ceremony included a short documentary on the historical origin and evolution of poetry in the Arab world followed by musical performances. The South African poet Breyten Breytenbach then addressed the audience, saying the festival was a necessary step towards bringing cultures and nations closer together. Describing poetry as a "process of consciousness", he said: "This festival is a step towards bringing cultures closer where people speak the same language of sincerity and truth, even if through different dialects." He followed up his speech with a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, which the audience responded to with a huge round of applause. The festival will feature poetry recitals in various languages but would be translated for the audience. Organisers said yesterday that stalwarts from the world of poetry, including Ahmed Abdel Muti Hijazi, Imtiaz Dharker, Joumana Haddad, Ibrahim Mohamed Ibrahim and Thomas Solomon, would also present their work during the festival. Other poets on the bill include Farouk Juweidah, Wolfgang Kubin, Saadeddine Shahine and Matthew Sweeney. The festival's agenda on the first day included two poetry soirees at the Madinat Jumeirah. It will include poetry recitals, literary exhibitions and critical reviews across various venues including the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Madinat Jumeirah and the House of Poetry. Social clubs of the various ethnic communities in Dubai, including Egyptian, Pakistani, Iranian and Sudanese, will participate in the festival by organising special poetry evenings.