I had a candid chat with four young Emiratis who are active in the contemporary poetry/spoken word scene. The poets, Salem Al Attas, Ahmed Amiri, Nabiha Nahyan, and Amna Abdalla, range from emerging to established. We talked about the impressive emergence of the self-expression movement in the UAE, and where their passions lie.
Dorian: You were all born in Abu Dhabi: how has that shaped your perspective on life?
Salem: Life in the capital is centered around family and a real sense of community. I never saw myself as an individual but more like an important part of a big community.
Ahmed: Being born here gave me a steady and comfortable life as well as opportunities to advance in different aspects of life. Amna: Although I was born in Abu Dhabi, I was raised for most of my life in Sharjah. If anyone would ask where I’m from I’d say from both Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Sharjah has made me humble and modest. Abu Dhabi has made me hyper aware of who I am, and what I allow myself to identify as.
Nabiha: Abu Dhabi is a city that keeps growing and changing rapidly in a short period of time. Growing up in a very globalized society and surrounded by a wide diversity of cultures and languages has sculpted the way I perceive life
Dorian: People from the UAE have a strong sense of pride for their country. Where does this pride come from?
Nabiha: My pride comes from our father Sheikh Zayed, a leader who was able to invest and instill pride in his own people and who made sure the pride passes on to every generation. Emiratis have a very rich culture and language also plays a role in our loyalty and pride to the UAE.
Salem: The country is young so everything that has been accomplished hasn been within our grandparents’ lifetime. We have an amazing relationship with our leaders who not only provide everything we need, but also give us opportunities to thrive in all fields of work, art and life.
Amna: There is a strong sense of pride and I feel like it comes from our upbringing and schooling. The love we have for our leaders is from the hard work they put in. We are reminded almost daily in school of the support and security our country provides, and we learn that from an early age.
Dorian: Poetry and storytelling have been an important part of the UAE’s history. How are you carrying on that tradition?
Ahmed: In the Jahiliya era, Arabic poetry almost always included mentioning of women as they were one of the main sources of beauty. I try to incorporate the celebration of women in to each piece I do.
Amna: I wish I was able to carry on the tradition in Arabic, but unfortunately I lack the dedication and skill it requires and so I express myself in English. It means a lot knowing that I can be a part of this tradition in my own way without being criticized.
Nabiha: Poetry serves a very important purpose and it will never fade out. It’s important to open the path and inspire others not only regionally but internationally as well.
Salem: It is both a humbling honour, as well a terrifying responsibility. As the first Emirati slam poet, I had a lot to prove and still more to make sure I do a good job representing my countrymen.
Dorian: What type of impact does poetry have on your life?
Salem: My relationship has changed over the years. It began as this exciting part of my life that I committed a lot of time to. Now it is a tool I use to connect myself to those around as well as to give a voice to other Emiratis. I’ve been able to meet amazing people and travel across the world to perform.
Nabiha: Poetry enables me to idealize reality with emotional sincerity. It’s also been a form of self-therapy, a source of purging, a way to express thoughts and emotions that overwhelm me from within without the judgment of others interrupting. It has expanded my horizons and helped me grow as a person; I am no longer a stranger to myself.
Ahmed: It helped me learn how to get over my fear of public speaking.
Amna: Before poetry, I was never dedicated enough to keep a diary and was never able to express confusing concepts or emotions. Poetry allows me to express those large thoughts using few words. It’s therapeutic.
Dorian: How has the poetry scene grown in the region since you first got involved?
Amna: Initially I thought poetry in the region was exclusively in Arabic. In 2016, you can participate weekly in an open mic or even contribute work to publishers!
Salem: The growth has been exponential. We went from one open mic to many popping up across the emirates. There has also been growth in the talent. We now have poets who have been performing and competing regularly for years.
Nabiha: From what I’ve noticed, interest is growing within the community. The growth and development of poetry has brought an amazing diversity and frequency to the poetry scene which keeps expanding.
Dorian: What’s the best part about being a poet? What’s the hardest part?
Nabiha: Knowing that I’m able to contribute to my community is great, along with the ability to stir emotions in people and to receive social support through connecting with others using words. The hardest part is probably living the poem and feelings before you write it down and the will to expose that innermost part of yourself while performing.
Salem: The best part would have to be the therapeutic value. Self-reflection and self- awareness are things I gained only through poetry.
Amna: The hardest part for me is to be constantly observant. I’m never part of the moment, in fact I’m thinking about how I would describe it. The best parts are the poems you write, not all, but the ones that were hard to write. There are those that you might not want to share with anyone, some you write and never read again, and others you wrote and keep going back to read again. Relatability is key in poetry, and what’s more relatable than your own words?
Ahmed: The best part is being able to express myself on stage in a way that I wouldn’t be able to in person. The hardest part is keeping it PG 13!
Dorian: Spoken word is spreading to open mics in Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and other countries both in the GCC and nearby countries. Do you take pride in knowing that the UAE has influenced others in their poetry movements?
Salem: I do take pride in being at the forefront of poetry in the Gulf. Helping it spread and finding talent has become a great source of inspiration to me and other poets.
Amna: It’s great knowing the Gulf region is open to these movements and opportunities. Who knows what talents are still hidden.
Dorian: Lastly, how can I contact you three about splitting the bill? Coffee for four is expensive these days.
*Ahmed, Nabiha, Salem, and Amna stare blankly at each other and then at Dorian*
Salem on Instagram: @salem_attas
Ahmed on FB using his name, Amiri.
Amna on FB using her name Amna Abdalla.
Nabiha on twitter @nabihanahyan