Poet Shaikha Abdulla Almutairi, head of National culture & documents division, Juma Al Majid Center for Culture and Heritage. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: A nation that breathes poetry is likely to produce a generation of poetry lovers and poets who view this timeless literary form as an integral part of their national identity, said Shaikha Al Mutairi. A renowned Emirati poet, Al Mutairi’s perspective endorses the reality that poetry exists in every Emirati home, and despite modernisation, it is a much sought-after literary and cultural pursuit.

“Poetry exists in every [Emirati] house. We were raised listening to poetry,” said Al Mutairi, who works as the head of the National Heritage Department in Juma’a Al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage and promotes poetry among younger generations.

Reminiscing about the old days, Al Mutairi said it was a common habit among many Emirati families in the 1990s to gather every evening to watch a poetry show broadcast on TV. “A popular show called the Poets Majlis brought the entire family together back in those days. When the show was about to begin, you would find the entire house, including the young ones, gathered in front of the TV. The programme is now being repeated on Dubai Zaman channel.”

Not a day could go by without “a taste of some poetry”. “Apart from poetry being part of the school curriculum, it was not uncommon to find the father being a poet, the mother reading poetry and the grandma giving a daily dose of poetry to her grandchildren.” said Al Mutairi, who writes poetry mostly in classical Arabic.

The advance of time has not affected this deep-rooted tradition, she said, though it could be that in smaller Emirati families, there could be a lesser presence of poetry. “But it is very unlikely for them to not be exposed to poetry when they visit their extended families. What cannot be found in one house can be found in another,” said Al Mutairi.

In the UAE, poetry has the power to bind families. “My dad loves poetry, and when he sits with his granddaughter, he recites poetry and she naturally begins repeating the poems she heard from him,” she said.

Recalling her own initiation into poetry, Al Mutairi said she was only six years old when she was first introduced to it. Subsequently, she was inspired to look into more poetry books similar to the ones she read at school. Soon, she found herself memorising the stanzas and reciting poems to others her age.

As she grew up, Al Mutairi held on to her passion and earned a degree in Arabic language and literature from the Islamic and Arabic College as well as a higher diploma in Arabic. She went on to publish three collections of poems and a literature book.

Her poems mainly take up themes of romance, patriotism, women and describe human relationships.

“Over the years, it has became easier for many poets to publish their works. There is a strong interest coming from local institutions to support new poets who practise traditional forms of literature, like poetry. Government institutions dedicated to backing culture and heritage also encourage poets to publish their works and organise literary events that bring poets together under one roof. It happens to be the case, to a certain extent, with publishing houses too, who like to pick good Emirati works.”

“We can say the dominant themes of poetry in the UAE are linked to the nation or to the national symbols,” she added.

Poetry, Al Mutairi believes, can drive change. “[Emirati] poets address important topics and social dilemmas which can influence the public greatly.”

The only aspects that have altered between the past and the present, according to Al Mutairi, are the mediums through which poetry is being received. “There are several ways people are getting exposed to poetry and it’s not necessarily through books. Recorded poems are an example. Many like to listen to poetry being recited, others watch poetry programmes or attend poetry evenings.”

The youth are particularly interested in reading poetry shared over social media, she said, but it is not rare for them to be spotted at poetry evenings.

“When it comes to the youth, at Juma Al Majid Centre For Culture And Heritage, we try to inculcate poetry and literature in young minds by holding workshops that train children to write poems and lectures that teach them about the history of poetry in the UAE.

“The field of poetry is mature in the UAE and a number of Emiratis turn to poetry because we are a poetic nation. Our leadership are poets themselves, which explains why we are a society that loves poetry.”