Dubai: Up until recently not many young ears in the UAE were attuned to the nuances of poetry. Most bookstores didn’t have more than a few collections and even book fairs and literature festival seemed low on poetic overture.
But slowly, the scene is transforming with several fringe groups developing rhythms that are getting youngsters tapping their feet and humming, and if any particular group has played a role in filling that void it has been Blank Space.
Founded by a Sudanese duo during their first meeting at an event back in 2015, the idea for Blank Space blossomed from Mathani Mohammad’s passion for poetry and Mohammad Hakam’s penchant for organising events.
Both were regulars at a popular Abu Dhabi-based monthly open mic session called Rooftop Rhythms and when they met the first time it struck to them that, instead of driving all the way to the capital every month, they should do something similar in Dubai.
“I used to go to Abu Dhabi on the first Friday of every month to enjoy some local poetry. It was fun, but then I thought why do we have to so far to enjoy something you love, why don’t we just have it here,” said Mathani, who is herself a poet.
A nutritionist by profession, she discovered her gift of verse when she started frequenting Rooftop Rhythms.
“I started writing poetry after I began visiting the sessions,” she said. “I saw poets performing on stage and I realised I could do this too. So within three months of visiting I started writing and performed there and within the next few months we started Blank Space in Dubai. It all happened pretty quick,” she added.
I used to go to Abu Dhabi on the first Friday of every month to enjoy some local poetry. It was fun, but then I thought why do we have to go so far to enjoy something you love, why don’t we just have it here?”
What started with just an idea over a cup of coffee has now turned into a hugely popular platform, completing its fourth season with its last show in April.
The platform now boasts several collaborations and many popular artists, with a couple of them going on to publish poetry collections.
Mathani had a perfect foil in someone like Hakam to get the event going.
“I have always loved being part of, or organising, events right from my university days and when Mathani floated the idea I immediately latched onto it,” said Hakam, who is an electrical engineer by profession. “I used to go to a few open mic events, but there weren’t that many good events happening in Dubai and that was one of the reasons we thought this could work,” he added.
I have always loved being part of events. I used to go to a few open mic events, but there weren’t that many good events happening in Dubai and that was one of the reasons we thought this could work.”
Within a few sessions Blank Space became a big hit, drawing in youngsters and inspiring many to pick up a pen and take to the stage.
Hakam says the idea for the name itself came from the need to fill the space.
“The name just stuck. We discussed it for a couple of hours and this was like it was meant to be, we couldn’t find anything more appropriate,” he added.
According to Mathani, the name went well with what they were trying to do.
“We were trying to fill in the blank space, both in terms of having an event like this and writing poetry where you have a blank space and you fill it in with your words,” she said.
The platform completed four years of its existence just before Ramadan and the success has not gone without notice in local literary circles with the duo jointly hosting a Ramadan series with Cinema Akil.
“It has been a beautiful journey so far,” said Mathani. “But it has always been tough putting things together, getting the people in and making sure they are enjoying it. Initially, finding a cooperative venue was an issue because in the beginning we didn’t know how many people would attend and what business the event would bring to the venue and then when people knew us, finding venues big enough to accommodate everyone was another issue,” she added.
Despite its popularity on social media, Hakam believes word of mouth also played a key role in making Blank Space a brand among local writers and poetry aficionados.
The beauty of the group lies in its cosmopolitan nature that allows anyone and everyone to come on stage to perform without any restriction of language or art form.
“We just have a few simple rules such as no politics of this country, no cussing, no vulgarity etc. Other than that there are no age restrictions or any other requirements. Anybody can walk in, register and perform, it could be spoken word, poetry or singing,” said Hakam.
The platform sees artists ranging from as young as 10 or 12 years of age, to established performers with huge fan followings on social media.
According to the duo, the platform has helped several youngsters break out and express themselves, eventually going on to do bigger things.
“We have had people who had not written a word before they started attending our events and they are now top performers. We have had poets who are now being invited for readings in other places and there are also those who have published books,” said Hakam, while expressing his delight in helping build a platform that helps young poets find their voice.