Dubai: The diversity and evolving idiom of Emirati poetry was on display on Thursday night at a packed recital at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai by two very different exponents of the craft, both with a strong fan following.
While award-winning Emirati poet and documentary film-maker Nujoom Al Ganem recited a selection of her works that combine the physical with the metaphysical in observing everyday situations, her Edinburgh-born compatriot Wael Al Sayegh demonstrated the changing mores of society with his pithy but incisive verses, including one which circulated through BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) even before it was officially published.
"I live in two languages, I write in two languages, I have an intimate relationship with both," said Al Sayegh, who spent his early life in Scotland, is married to a South African and lives in Dubai.
The title of his latest book of poetry, There is an Elephant in the Majlis, reflects how literature in the emirates has embraced thoughts and trends from other cultures without compromising on the Emirati identity, he said.
"In the West everybody talks about the elephant in the room when they try to overlook the most obvious problem. But in our culture we discuss issues at the majlis and so I wrote about the elephant in the majlis," said Al Sayegh, who writes in both Arabic and English.
Al Sayegh's poetry ranges from compositions such as The Green Room, which captures the ecstasy and anxiety of witnessing the birth of his first child, to a gently humorous verse on the swollen feet of his wife during pregnancy (which got circulated through BBM), to an eloquent tribute to Nizar Qabbani and the experience of visiting the Syrian poet's grave
It then moves to observations of life's daily struggles from the vantage point of his home in Dubai's Al Jaffliya district.
"[My home in Al Jaffliya] allows me to see things everyday that we normally don't hear or read about. I see people delivering bread on bicycles in the evening who also go to office in the morning, I hear the shattering of glass at night," he said.
While Al Sayegh's empathetic verses captured the realism of the time we live in both locally and globally, Nujoom's powerful and moving recitals — some long and some almost the style of Haiku — spoke among many things, of unrequited love and relationships.
They also spoke of an old aunt who is dying and is yet clinging on to life though "despair is her refuge," the metaphysical experience of a fever and her mothers unfulfilled wishes. Described by literary critics as "one of the strongest modern Emirati poets," the blank verses Nujoom selected for the recital demonstrated her mastery at portraying the emotional unease, conflicts and contradictions that people go through in real-life situations and relationships.
While some of her works are replete with vivid imagery and symbolism — the fish dangling on the hook of life, delirium prompted by sand and heat or the sweaty smell of love and longing — the short verses display a remarkable restraint.
Though with completely differing viewpoints and artistic voices, the poetry of Nujoom and Al Sayegh united in the session aptly titled "Poetry of the Unexpected" to show how literary artistes in the emirates are moving forward boldly to explore new styles, techniques and themes.
Though with completely differing viewpoints and artistic voices, the poetry of Nujoom and Al Sayegh united in the session aptly titled "Poetry of the Unexpected" to show how literary artistes in the emirates are not only in harmony with both tradition and modernity but have also moved forward boldly to explore new styles, techniques and themes.