x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The highlights of Speak Abu Dhabi

The philosophical words of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Khalil Gibran will fill the air in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday as local and international poets gather to recite their works aloud. We speak to the creative force behind Speak Abu Dhabi.

Muhammad Saadah, a 13-year-old oud player, practises his piece for Wednesday’s Speak Abu Dhabi. Lee Hoagland / The National
Muhammad Saadah, a 13-year-old oud player, practises his piece for Wednesday’s Speak Abu Dhabi. Lee Hoagland / The National

The philosophical words of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Khalil Gibran will fill the air in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday evening as local and international poets gather to recite their poetry aloud. The Iranian poet and poetry therapist Bahareh Amidi, the creative force behind the latest edition to the capital’s cultural calendar, Speak Abu Dhabi, speaks to The National.

Bahareh, tell me what can people expect tonight?

We have six people reciting works. Ayeda Husain is a Rumi expert and has taught his work for the past nine years. We will also be reading from The Prophet, and a student from NYU will be the voice of Khalil Gibran.

Dorian "Paul D" Rogers is an American poet and his style is more "slam speak" - truly soulful and beautiful. Then there is professor Hamed Abdi and one of his specialities is Khayyam, so he'll be reciting him and his own work.

Also Jamal H Iqbal does incredible poems - one of them being from his experience of living in labour camps to get a feel for what people go through.

And there's Hamdah Khalfan Al Mansouri, who has been writing since childhood and believes that poetry has been one of her best friends because, as she says herself, being handicapped, it's very difficult to find friends.

The fantastic thing about Hamdah is that she really has something to say. She says, "I have lived in the US for three years and I have seen how people with handicaps are treated, and I want to tell everyone here not to hide their children in closets. They need to understand that they have talent, needs and wants." She has a clear message and I am sure we will be watching this lady when Oprah starts again!

What do you hope Speak Abu Dhabi will achieve?

The main mission of this event is to bring people from all walks of life together. My training and background is in psychology and therapy and most recently I have been studying the courses of American poetry therapist John Fox - practising this work at labour camps and safe houses in the UAE. So Speak Abu Dhabi is not only the six featured poets but also students from NYU, American Community School and voices from those safe houses. Where the ladies are unable to attend, the poetry we have worked on during therapy will be read aloud. We have also invited gentlemen from the labour camps to join as guests that evening.

Why is poetry such an effective psychological tool in your workshops at labour camps and safe houses?

For me, poetry therapy is a lot like giving a child a piece of paper and a million paint brushes - you don't even have to say "draw me how you feel".

With poetry, there are only questions to consider: How does it make you feel? And what image did you see? With that, magically, a picture of a lifetime is drawn in two verses - which is very condensed, very understood, it's very heard.

The main thing we try to achieve in the camps and the safe houses is to give people voices and really listen to them.

It sounds like a cathartic process; do the sessions often provoke emotional responses from the ladies in the safe houses?

Yes, but like everything else, it's very circumstantial and depends on how open the group feels. And it's truly incredible that women will write anything from two lines to two pages. They may then give the poem to the translator and say "you read it" and I very quietly say "let's hear it in your voice first, even though I don't understand it, I do get it". Often their stories are about being truly thankful for what they have; their health, a safe place to live, a family. But then there are also lots of stories about longing to be home and it does get very emotional.

How receptive are labour camp workers to the idea of poetry therapy?

My work there is mostly recitals and I am planning to go back for some poetry workshops. Just last week, I did a recital at a labour camp in a class of 70 men that were studying English. I normally print off poems in their own language, read it in English and they in their mother tongue, and then we spend time writing or reflecting. A lot of time I use my own poems too - one in particular is called The Angel Who Lost His Wings - it's very short and yet somehow it touches everybody I've ever recited it to.

Are you the angel in your poem?

Well, the poem really reminds me of the story Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and it is a place of reflection. Yes, indeed, I feel I have found the reason why I'm living, so I don't know if the angel is just me, but would hope it is each person.

Do you believe poetry has a universal power to unite people, especially in a country like the UAE with so many diverse nationalities?

I really do and from what I have seen in our groups and recitals over the past couple of years - we've had Emirati and western ladies sitting side-by-side, both giving me the same sense and smile as they listen. Poetry gives acceptance to everything somehow. It is soulful and also soul food, so I do believe it can make a difference.

Are you planning for Speak Abu Dhabi to become a regular event?

This is the first event of its kind and hopefully it will be a monthly or every 40-days happening with a different focus each time like children in poetry, women in poetry, etc. I wrote my first poem almost exactly a year ago to the night of the event and think it's truly magical how we've all now come together.

Speak Abu Dhabi will be held at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, Abu Dhabi Breakwater on Wednesday, May 2 from 7pm. The event is free to attend. For more details contact Bahareh Amidi at connect@bahareh.com or call 050 660 6142


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