ABU DHABI // Dressed in a black kandura with a golden khanjar at his belt, Abu Hajes Al Haroubi stormed on to the stage as if about to declare war.
He looked at the judges, then at the audience before bellowing: “I am Yemeni, hear me world!”
The right verses were worth their weight in gold at Tuesday’s premiere of the fifth season of Million’s Poet, a show that has become a display of personalities.
Al Haroubi was the “arrogant” poet, so dubbed by the judges.
Then there was the “comical” poet, Abdullah Al Ameri from Oman, whose exaggerated hand gestures and body movements were part of the act as he recited a love poem: And she, whose faced was dipped in kilos of heavy makeup, told me I am too fat, and that she will not love me.
But it was two Saudi poets, known as the “daring” and “powerful”, who ended up winning the highest marks from the judges and making it through to the next round of poetry competition worth millions of dirhams.
Saqqar Al Ouni and Mansour Faheed took on sensitive issues in their opening poems, slamming the “plague” of extremism and poverty that is spreading through their country and the rest of the region.
And no, there are no keys to heaven dangling over the homes of whom you terrorised, Al Ouni yelled out as he stood centre stage, losing his voice in the middle of recitation.
Al Haroubi, Al Ameri, Al Ouni and Faheed were among eight poets who competed at the Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi. The event was broadcast live on AD Emarat TV. The programme begins at 9pm and ends at 11.30pm each Tuesday.
The competition, organised by Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), has field of 48 poets, two of them women, selected from more than 20,000 applicants who will battle it out every week.
Eight of the 48 contestants compete each week, with two advancing based on judges’ scoring and another two on viewers’ voting.
Other poets who competed this week included one from the UAE, one from Jordan and two from Kuwait.
The winners will be announced at the end of March, with a first prize of Dh5million, a second prize of Dh4m and a third prize of Dh3m. Fourth and fifth places will be awarded Dh2m and Dh1m respectively.
Historically, poets have enjoyed special immunity to say what others would not dare. This is what the two Saudi poets gambled on and won.
“This here, this stage, is where a poet has a chance to send the message of his community to the world,” said Sultan Al Omemi, a judge from the UAE.
Using metaphors from nature and archaic Arabic words to convey their messages with dramatic delivery, they got high marks from all three judges. The poems are expressed in “Nabati”, a form that uses local, everyday dialect instead of classical Arabic.
“The lungs of this theatre have just breathed in an immense amount of fresh air,” said Hamad Al Saeed, the judge from Kuwait.
The third judge is Dr Ghassan Al Hassan, from Jordan.
This season a psychologist has been added to the end of the segment to assess the state and body language of the contestants.
“Without a doubt, the Yemeni poet was the most confident of the group,” said Dr Nadia Bu Hannad, the contest’s psychologist.
From making note of nervous tapping of the feet to the level of sweating, and even how loud they recite, Dr Bu Hannad keeps a close eye on the contestants.
“I won’t be focusing on the negative, as we don’t want to demoralise any of the contestants, but on things that make them unique and may actually help them in the long run,” she said.
Two things that particularly stood out for her in the first episode were the “lack of interaction from the audience” and the tendency for many of the contestants to “yell” their poems.
“When you yell at the people listening to you, it usually breaks the connection with the audience,” she said.
She noted that one of Tuesday’s winners, Faheed, was “emotionally connected with what he was saying”, which may have helped him to win.
A more detailed analysis of each episode of the show will be shown the following night on the same channel, on the new Al Maghanee cultural poetry programme that will include Dr Bu Hannad and other guests. Cultural and current affairs matters will also be discussed.
The audience vote in the first episode saw Al Haroubi, the “arrogant” poet from Yemen, receive the highest points as the one who left the “greatest impression”.
“I am lucky to be a poet,” Al Haroubi said. “For I get to create words that are made of gold and silver.”