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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

On Sheikh Zayed’s poetry: 'he was always thinking of the big picture' 

Takeaways from the Sharjah International Book Fair session examining the poetry of the founder of the nation

Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE. Photo courtesy Al Ittihad
Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE. Photo courtesy Al Ittihad

The poetry of Sheikh Zayed, the nation’s founder, was one of the key talking points of the Sharjah International Book Fair over the weekend. In a packed session, titled Zayed’s Poetry, at the Expo Centre Sharjah on Friday night, Abu Dhabi Poetry Academy manager Sultan Al Amimi and Jordanian cultural adviser Ghassan Al Hassan analysed Sheikh Zayed’s poetry and explored how it covered both the universal and personal.

For example, Al Hassan recalled, how in 1987, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, sent an invitation to Sheikh Zayed to a horse race in the emirate. “He sent that invitation in the form of a poem,” he said.

“Now, as per custom, the invitation was replied to by Sheikh Zayed also in the form of a poem, that was of the same length.”

Hassan pointed out how this reply, as was often the case with his writing, was imbued with multiple meanings. “He was always of thinking of the big picture,” he says. “On the surface, it is a reply to the invitation. But if you read it deeply, what he is really talking about is unity and it shows how that was always important to him. That’s the beauty of his poetry. Not only are they accessible and can be understood, but they are always layered with multiple meanings”

Sheikh Zayed’s poetry has been documented through books and recordings since the early 1980s, and Al Amimi describes this as a treasure trove that reveals the various sides to Sheikh Zayed’s personality.

Al Amimi says that, through his poetry, Sheikh Zayed’s humanity is crystallised. “From the poems that I read one of the key threads is how Sheikh Zayed valued his friendships,” he says. “He respected the value of friendships and he did that in various ways through his poetry.”

Al Amimi provided four examples of how Sheikh Zayed expressed his love for his friends. “One was in the gentle way he expressed his concerns to another. It was always expressed from the viewpoint of a dear friend,” he said.

“Another way is in the tone of how he responded to the poetry which stated the concerns of others. Thirdly, there was his responses to particular pieces of poetry. Sheikh Zayed would write a poem to another poet to express how that’s poet’s work impressed him or how it made him feel a certain emotion.”

“A fourth way was how Sheikh Zayed would send a poem to a friend to enquire about them, how he missed their company and how he cared about them.”

Another session: best-selling authors on why they write

The best way to overcome doubt as a writer is to simply get on with your work, that was one of the key takeaways from the Genre Studies panel session, held on Saturday. “That concern is constant. Those questions whether you have anything left to write or whether you can do it again. It never ends,” admits Kuwaiti crime and sci-fi author Abdul Wahab Al Sayed Al Refai.

“I been asking myself those questions since 2004 and I have written over a dozen pieces since then, so you just learn to keep going.”

When it comes to their readership, both Al Refai and British romance novelist Katie Forde said they were encouraged by who picks up their titles. “My readership is mostly women who can be from 16 to 60 years old. While all my readers are not the same, I always feel that if they met they would get along with each other,” she said.

“One women also told me that her husband started reading my books after he was experiencing depression after recovering an accident. He started reading my books because he knew nothing bad will happen in them.”

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Read more:

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Najwa Zebian: writing was genuinely my only way of dealing with the world

Okechukwu Ofili: ‘Western fairy tales are messing with the minds of black children’

Ahmed Mourad: writing a world in which nothing is normal

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As for the often gritty novels of Al Refai, he says that a majority of his readers across the Arab world are youth. “And from that, I would say that 70 percent are women, which makes me happy,” he says.

“I didn’t intend to do that but I always made sure my books had strong and independent female characters and I think they noticed that.”

The Sharjah International Book Fair closes tonight at 11pm. For details, go to www.sibf.com