From humble but lyrical beginnings in a pokey pub in 2009, the Dubai chapter of The Poeticians has expanded into a diehard group defending the value of words. The poetry group meets in bars and pubs around town once a month, and offers an alternative night out to the city's multitude of loud, stuffy sports bars.
"Sometimes we've had events with 12 poets and eight audience members and it's still been a blast," says Hind Shoufani, who founded The Poeticians in Beirut in 2007 before moving to Dubai. "Then other times we've had 100 people in the audience, shouting people to keep it down. We're amateurs. We have fun and we say what we want to say."
On Saturday, The Poeticians will hold the Dubai launch of their first publication at Sublime Bar in Ibis World Trade Center hotel. "Everybody in the book has really tried to say something," Shoufani says. "The book is more about a community than it is words on a page; I hope it encapsulates a little of the energy of that community."
Nowhere Near a Damn Rainbow is published by xanadu*, an independent book house in Lebanon started by the poet Zena El Khalil. The book features the work of 31 poets, all of whom have performed at The Poeticians' events in Beirut or Dubai. The abrasive title sets the tone for a collection that veers away from the decorous pleasantries too-often associated with poetry. "We don't do sonnets or poems about trees," says Shoufani. "It can be beautiful in the sense that it's very sensitive, but if the poems are too dreamy or spiritual, or even placid, then I tend not to accept [them].
"I think it would be very hard to define thematic connections among these poets because it's an open platform open to everybody with the capacity to express their ideas well. It's not for professional poets who write in classical forms."
Nonetheless, certain themes do crop up: borderlands, the shadow of conflict and, particularly, Palestine. "In my choice of people who perform, I'm naturally geared towards political poetry," says Shoufani, a Palestinian whose own work features in the book. "I like people who write about the region, and you will see a strong political trend in the book."
Subtitled Unsanctioned Writing From The Middle East, the collection offers a delightful mix of voices from within and outside the region. Itinerant poets, such as the marvellous Frank Dullaghan, an Irish writer who has lived in Dubai since 2006, bring a lot to the book with reflections on a city little rendered in poetic tones before. "The women are smoking shisha,/passing the tube from one to the other, blowing smoke out over the lake,/here at the edge of Dubai Mall," writes Dullaghan in a work that describes the luxurious, polished world of the omnipresent mall as a series of uncomfortable sketches.
Mazen Zahreddine's operatic, long-form poem about a centurion and a geisha can, at turns, be humorous, shocking and epic in its vision. James Joyce-esque in how he tinkers with sentence structure, Zahreddine is capable of taking on silly and sonorous personas that can speak eloquently about the violence that has torn through Beirut.
"Jehan Bseiso reads very well," says Shoufani. "It's intensely personal work and grandiose in its reach. She can use breakfast to talk about 60 years of exile. She'll talk about laundry and within that will be heartbreak. Everybody who's ever been dumped or destroyed by a lover will identify with lines in there."
The Poeticians originally brought together "a lot of people already writing about [Beirut's] psychosis, deep conflict and how they feel about this intense place", Shoufani says.
"Some people were quite dismissive when I moved to Dubai. They'd say things like, 'What will you write poetry about? Show me your Porsche, baby.' But others were supportive, and through friends and contacts we started The Poeticians with three people," she says. "The more we had events, the more people joined. There are a lot of people here with things to say but without an outlet, and they're not necessarily people wanting publishing houses or chasing agents."
The Poeticians's next monthly event is the book launch, Saturday at Sublime Bar in Ibis World Trade Center hotel, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. It will include readings from the book, which will be on sale for Dh55. For more information on the group or how to submit your work for consideration for performance, visit www.poeticians.com.