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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Where Have All the Poems Gone?


With the death a week ago of beloved Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, it comes of little surprise (but a smile across my face) that while we here in America are more concerned with texting on our Blackberries, the Arab world has been immersed in watching a program on television in the same vein as American Idol only this program is a contest between poets.

It always utterly amazes me that Americans have NO clue about the depth of intellectuality in the Arab world, no clue whatsoever, probably because this is a lost endeavor for the masses in America, content with sound-bite biased news programming while in schools the social sciences and the emphasis on writing skills have been placed on the back burner in the pursuit of raising math and science scores due to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Just now I stopped at the local Albertsons (super market) to pick up some cinnamon rolls. Just like at Fresh and Easy they now have a fast do-it-yourself check out lane where you scan your purchases and the touch computer screen tells you what to do next. I wasn't quite sure how this one worked so an employee, a middle aged very attractive female employee came over to help me. I said to her, "This is so Orwellian" to which she responded, "What's that?"

I said, "You know, it refers to George Orwell who wrote "1984" and how in the future so many human touches will be lost and other things too".

She responded, "I don't know about that, who's that?"

I looked at her and said, "You've never heard of George Orwell?"

"No" she responded.

I was so taken back I almost didn't know what to say, but just said, "Well, if you have a computer at home, you should look him up to learn a little bit about him"

There you go, I told her to use her computer.

Everything is becoming "quick". Not that long ago I would have told her she should go to the local library and check out one of his books, but do people even read any more?

I don't know, but on the other side of the world, people are writing and reciting poetry, and the people there are glued to their televisions watching and listening.

Just something to think about.

All are princes, says winning poet

Tala al Ramahi

  • Last Updated: August 16. 2008 9:48PM UAE / August 16. 2008 5:48PM GMT

“In the end, I believe it is the poet’s manners – how he deals with people on a daily basis – that makes him a real prince”: Mr Weld Bamba upon winning the title and its Dh1 million prize. Galen Clarke / The National

ABU DHABI // Four months ago there were 7,000 hopefuls. They were whittled down to 35 and, after 10 weeks of intense competition, to just six until, on Thursday night, when the “Emirate of Poets” finally crowned its prince, there was just one.

In the final upset of a series that has held viewers spellbound, the Mauritanian poet, Seedi Mohammed Weld Bamba, emerged as the unexpected victor in the last episode of one of the largest televised cultural competitions in the world. His success was witnessed by a television audience of more than two million.

The finale of the second season of Prince of Poets, the hit television project of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, was filled with unexpected twists and surprises – just as the Egyptian Ahmed Bekheit, the favourite among the finalists, had suggested it would be.

And not least among those surprises was the last-minute upset for Bekheit, who found himself relegated to third place.

The most prolific of the finalists, Bekheit, 42, already had 14 published collections of poetry to his name, including four for children, and was consistently the panel’s favourite, receiving rave reviews from the five judges throughout the competition.

The Algerian Khalidiyah Gaballah, 28, the only remaining female finalist, was voted off at the beginning of the show and the surviving five had to recite a poem they had written recounting their experiences during the competition.

For his final poem, dedicated to the memory of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died on Aug 9 following bypass surgery, Bekheit received a loud and long round of applause and one of only two standing ovations of the night.

Bekheit’s name had barely been announced in third place when the crowd at the Al Raha Beach Theatre – mostly Mauritanians – exploded with joy, waving their green and white national flags and cheering and screaming at the realisation that the most likely candidate for the title had been eliminated – and that their man Bamba was now in with a good chance of winning.

And win he did.

As his name was announced at 2am on Friday morning, the crowd showed a great deal more emotion than Bamba. The Al Jazeera producer, who is also working on his master’s degree in international journalism through a distance-learning programme at Goldsmiths University, London, remained a picture of composure.

“In the end, I believe it is the poet’s manners – how he deals with people on a daily basis – that makes him a real prince,” he said. “And therefore, the title bears the poet with the responsibility to represent all the other poets of the Arab world, in a positive way, I hope.

“The prince of poets needs to be a poet with his words, but also a poet through his deeds.”

Despite the harsh critiques he had received from the panelists throughout the past nine weeks, Bamba was clearly the audience’s favourite and won 68 per cent of the viewers’ votes – and, in the end, the Dh1 million (US$272,000) first prize.

Running a close second and third were Mohammed Ibrahim Yacoub from Saudi Arabia and Bekheit, who received Dh500,000 and Dh300,000 respectively. Prizes of Dh200,000 and Dh100,000 went to Jordanian Mohannad Sari and Adi Weld Adab, the second Mauritanian finalist, in fourth and fifth place.

The show’s organisers said that more than three million people from the Arab world, as well as Europe and America, had taken part in the voting.

The victory celebrations were in contrast to the sombre mood throughout most of the three-and-a-half-hour show, conducted in a muted tone as judges, poets and audience alike honoured the memory of Darwish.

A moment of silence was observed and a poem written by one of the judges, Dr Ali bin Tamim, was recited before the start of the programme. “We would like to console the Arab world and those who fought for human rights for their loss of a great poet,” said Dr Tamim.

Darwish, said competitor Sari, was “the real Prince of Poets of our generation”, before reciting a poem in memory of the Palestinian, in addition to the one he had written for the competition.

Bamba also dedicated his poem to the memory of Darwish and a final poem was recited collectively by the 35 contestants who had qualified for the show nine weeks before.

At the end, the newly crowned Prince of Poets lived up to his own expectations of a poet as a prince in word and deed, and had some gracious words for his fellow competitors, who had joined him on stage, carrying the Mauritanian flag, for his moment of triumph.

“I really believe that the other five finalists are all princes,” he said, “not only in their poetry, but also in their demeanour and in their contributions to our culture and our craft.” (source)

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