The UAE has long shared a deep affinity with poetry. Princes, sheikhs, sailors and teachers alike have long worked with words to tell the stories about their long standing culture. The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a great lover of the craft, and left a legacy to revive the ancient art of Nabati poetry. Similar to an ode and recited in colloquial Arabic, the form dates back to 4th-century Arabia, where poets were revered as messengers, inspired by God, who elevated their tribe’s sense of pride.
Million’s Poet, The Arabic-language reality TV competition, was set up in 2006 to celebrate the craft and is presented in front of a live television audience and up to 20 million viewers across the Arab world. Think of it as ‘American Idol’ in prose.
Now in it’s fifth season, the show is embarking on it’s search to find wordsmiths worthy of the AED 15 million (Five for first place) prize money. The message of the poetry is varied; topics covered have been Camels, a particular Bedouin tribe or respect for one’s parents and the work is dissected by a panel of five judges who provide their feed back to the poet.
Sultan Al Amimi, Director of the Poetry Academy of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage advises that the conditions for entry are stringent: Participation and admission are based on strict technical and critical standards and bases found in Nabati poetry. Poems must abide by the rules of weight, rhyme and the power of speech and audience. They must also use poetic language in terms of expression and the way in which they deal with the poetic purpose and artistic construction of poems, images and compositions. In the past four seasons, the program has given 192 poets unprecedented media exposure – incredible for artists who had gone unnoticed for years.
Last year’s winner, Nasser al-Ajami, a 30-year-old amateur poet won the competition after receiving 67 percent of the public and jury votes. Ajami’s poems garnered a huge response and was praised by the judges for his use of imagery and wisdom despite his young age.
Not all poets are conservative. Last year’s third place winner, Saudi lady poet Hessa Hilal, also known as Remeya, won third place in the competition for her controversial poetry attacking radical clerics who issue religious rulings deemed by moderates and liberals to incite violence and social disorder. Hilal has continued to gain a huge female following with her poetry allowing a ‘voice’ for thousands of Arab women.
If you are up for the challenge to pen Nabati poems, applications are exclusively being accepted via www.almillion.net