OneLife Cafe
Youngsters gather at the poetry event at OneLife Cafe Image Credit: Supplied

It was a poetry evening by Blank Space, held at a café in Dubai’s Design District. The crowd was quite energetic and enthusiastic. I was curious and spoke to a few attendees.

A growing trend for the spoken word

Nihal from the audience was a regular to the event, and she described it as a space for people to come together. She said: “[the event] brings communities of artists together. It’s really nice, it provides a space for people to express themselves.” She likes attending to meet friends, to listen to performances and new poetry.

Yahya, aged 29, who was attending the event for the first time agreed. He said: “It was very good, and well organised. It’s an event that is gathering people together, and it feels like home.”

He appreciated how talented the poets were, and how their work was bringing people from diverse backgrounds together.

Ahmed Jihad, who was also performing, described that he has been to 6 different events, and has been performing since 2009. Poetry for Ahmed is a way to express his feelings, and to share his experiences. Brought up in Dubai, Ahmed shares his experiences in spoken word poetry, and shared a poem on his experience in Sudan.

“I love the diversity, the multicultural [environment].” He appreciated that the poets share their different experiences, and with different takes that keeps one open minded.

“Poetry is a natural progression of human communication,” explains Ahmed. “It’s about sharing experiences, and there is freedom to talk about anything you want.” But the main reason why poetry evenings are so popular with the youth now is that it allows them to reflect on their experiences and the experiences of others with empathy.

“Poetry here has opened my eyes to a lot more things like diversity that I wasn’t aware of,” explained Ahmed. “It allows an understanding of what everyone else is going through.”

The tradition of poetry

There is, at the heart of the Emirati culture, a deep respect for poetry. ‘Khaleeji poetry’ is a type of poetry which is part of the Arab heritage. At present, poetry evenings bring people together from diverse backgrounds to share their story in the increasingly popular art form of spoken word. Poetry evenings feature local and upcoming talent, including poets such as Farah AlChamma, Salem Al Attas, Afraa Atiq, Ahmed Yusuf and Jaysus Zain.

I spoke to the founders of the key poetry groups in the region – ‘Blank Space’, ‘Rooftop Rhythms’ and ‘Dubai Poetics’ to ask them why poetry is becoming so popular in the region, and how they are bringing people together.

Why is poetry growing in the UAE?

Jamil Adas of Dubai Poetics started the project in 2016, where it has now become Dubai Poetics and Beirut Poetics, hosting regular poetry evenings as well.

Dorian Rogers of ‘Rooftop Rhythms’ started the group in Abu Dhabi in 2012. Since then, he describes its progress as “way beyond expectation.” According to Dorian Rogers, contemporary poetry is becoming a “living art form” of people sharing their experiences of modern and current events.

Mathani Mohamed of ‘Blank Space’ began the poetry group in 2015 with co-founder Mohamed Hakam, after being inspired by the poetry group, ‘Rooftop Rhythms’, in Abu Dhabi.

Poetry, she explained, was seen as something outdated, which was why Mathani and Mohamed wanted to bring poetry back again.

“Why don’t we bridge that culture difference and bridge the ideology to the youth and to this generation of what poetry really is?” Mathani said.

“[There are] so many people who enjoy poetry, who love the spoken word, that have the potential to write but were never exposed to that type of environment that would encourage them to start writing. We started with a crowd of 70 people, and today we hold a crowd of 200 people.”

The work of expression

“Poetry gives you this window to express how you feel whether it’s through music, through spoken word or even through stand-up comedy or even through singing,” explained Mathani.

“The amount of people that come back to you with feedback and say I never felt I had it in me to write but I’m discovering a new person. And that rediscovering of who you are and what you want and what you’re capable of is remarkable.”

Speaking to the three founders of poetry groups made me realise the importance that poetry plays in the culture of the region, especially among millennials.

- The writer is an intern with the Social Media Desk of Gulf News