Who wants to be an Arab poetry millionaire?

May 5, 2009

Gulf poets compete in Millions' Poet competition

Gulf poets compete in Millions' Poet competition

A couple of decades ago I had an idea for an all-poetry cable channel.  We would have talk shows hosted by and featuring famous poets, films about poets, live readings and workshops, and possibly even feature length movies, dramas, and comedies.  (Stephen Dobyns’ Saratoga Hexameter, would have made a good source for a mini-series.)

I shelved the idea after realizing the only way I could afford to develop The Poetry Channel was to develop my other idea — The Disaster Channel. “All disaster, all the time,” was the tag line; 24/7 of disaster coverage, disaster movies, and disaster reporting.  My wife said she would divorce me if I went ahead with that idea.  (The Weather Channel has since taken the best parts of the format to the bank and is planning to launch a separate channel this spring.)

I now see what my idea was missing: I needed a poetry contest reality show!  In the most unlikely of places, Dubai television personality Nashwa Al Ruwaini has launched Millions’ Poet, sort of a Gulf version of American Idol, in which Arab poets battle it out for 5 million United Arab Emirates dirhams (more than $1.3 million).  70 million viewers tuned in to see the finale, according to news sources. Amazing.

Here is what Nashwa Al Ruwaini says about it in an editorial that appeared in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Three years ago, when I devised the format of Millions’ Poet, it was with little more in mind than creating an entertaining, original, and youth-oriented television show. Now in its third season, with more than 15 million viewers each week, the show has become the Gulf countries’ most prestigious poetry competition and a platform for young male and female poets to voice their thoughts before a broad audience. Most unexpectedly, it has also helped spur some progress in the region’s attitudes toward women.

Read the full editorial here: Millions’ Poet

Here is an article about Saudi poetess Ayda Al-Jahani, who is featured in the editorial and who made it to the final four in this usually male-dominated competition: Ayda Al-Jahani

And a link to an NPR Morning Edition story on her: NPR

If anyone has links to English translations of Ayda Al-Jahani’s work, will you please comment below?  Thanks.

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