Ahmed Al Amiri always finds himself nervous and a little “stressed out” each time he stands up in front of a crowd to recite one of his poems.
The 23-year-old Emirati will perform two of his English-language poems at the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Poetry Festival at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi on Thursday, March 19, as part of Abu Dhabi Festival. Al Amiri says one of his poems tackles fear, while the other is dedicated to his mother and marks Emirati Mother’s Day (which is on Saturday, March 21).
“I really like how I’m allowed to express myself in this way, to share feelings or thoughts that I have about a certain situation, which I might not be able to do in a normal setting,” says Al Amiri, who is studying international relations at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University. “Through poetry, it’s OK for me to say things that I can’t usually say in other situations; it challenges me to write something that I can’t say or do without being offensive.”
The American poets Patricia Smith, a National Book Award finalist and four-time National Poetry Slam champion, Kane Smego and G Yamazawa headline the one-day event, which will include workshops, open mic, slams, a poetry-writing competition and recitals by budding, home-grown poets from the region.
This is one of the first events of its kind in the UAE, and perhaps even in the Middle East, says Dorian “Paul D” Rogers, a high-school teacher, award-winning poet and founder of Rooftop Rhythms, which organises poetry open-mic nights in Abu Dhabi. The poetry festival, which is in collaboration with the American embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Fatima bint Hazza Cultural Foundation, is open to the public.
“We hope for people to see a culturally sensitive and appropriate event that adheres to the standards of the UAE and will hopefully bridge old traditions with the new and find commonalities of poetic self-expression, which is such an enriching art form,” says Rogers.
He hopes that young people will see the beauty of poetry and learn about the different opportunities to share their craft in the UAE.
“An interest in poetry is really booming here and I thought a festival would be a great way to educate up-and-coming poets and allow people to take part on an even bigger scale. I’ve been wanting to do this for two years now and finally teamed up with the right people.”
Since his move to Abu Dhabi from the United States in 2011, Rogers has helped to create an active open-mic and poetry-slam culture in the capital, which has spread across the UAE.
“When I moved here, I noticed that there weren’t any open-mic events in Abu Dhabi. It’s a western concept, where people have the opportunity to share their work publicly, so I started one in March 2012 and now there are several open mics in Abu Dhabi, in Dubai, and Arabic open mics, too.”
Starting a poetry festival that will hopefully become an annual event and showcase the art form felt like the natural next step, says Rogers.
“We will have workshops on writing and performance, lectures, there will be open mics for French, English and Arabic poetry, we will have a Khaleeji poetry slam and different writing workshops. Then we’ll also host a writing competition – we will be giving topics and poets can submit their poetry during the festival for us to choose our favourites. It will be great,” he says.
The Tanzanian-Omani student Abdul-Nassir Mohammed, 24, says he can’t wait to share his passion for poetry.
“When you tell people about poetry, they have this image in their head that is a subtle, laid-back, depressing thing,” says Mohammed, who is studying civil engineering at Abu Dhabi University. “But when they come and attend, they will see the amazing diversity, the range of topics, the lively performances.”
Mohammed plans to attend some workshops and will also be hosting one of the open-mic segments and take part in the poetry-writing competition.
“For me poetry is no longer a hobby, it’s become a passion,” he says. “I can write about anything that sparks inspiration, from clothes to heartbreak to just any random topic – chocolate, even. There are no barriers.”
Al Amiri says that for someone like him, who is still “pretty new at this poetry thing”, the opportunity to attend the workshops at the festival will go a long way towards helping him become a better poet. “You have to see what the professionals are doing and learn from them.”
• The Abu Dhabi International Poetry Festival is on Thursday, March 19, from 10am to 10pm at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi on Reem Island. Admission is free. To register, visit www.abudhabipoetryfestival.com