x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hassan Baiti takes 'Prince of Poets' title

Syrian Hassan Baiti was crowned the prince of Arab poetry on Thursday, winning both the title and Dh1 million.

Hassan Baiti of Syria won The Prince of Poets at Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi.
Hassan Baiti of Syria won The Prince of Poets at Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Hassan Baiti was crowned the prince of Arab poetry on Thursday, winning both the title and Dh1 million (US$272,000). Mr Baiti, from Syria, won the third season of the Prince of Poets television contest. In the final episode, he saw off competition from five rivals to take the crown.

Mr Baiti also won a burda, or cloak, symbolizing Arab historical heritage and a ring denoting an emir or prince. Bassam Salih Mahdi of Iraq was second and won Dh500,000. Turki Abdul Ghani of Jordan was third, claiming a prize of Dh300,000. Walid al Sarraf of Iraq - who expressed dissatisfaction with the result - was fourth and won Dh200,000. Hikmat Hassan of Syria was fifth and took home Dh100,000.

Mohammed al Sudi of Yemen came in sixth. He was eliminated at the beginning of Thursday night's episode after ranking lowest in a tally of judges' scores and audience voting after the previous week's round. Before the start of Thursday's episode, Mr Mahdi said he had obtained the highest score from the judges. As in previous rounds of scoring, the contest winner was chosen on the basis of the judges' evaluations and audience votes. Audience members could vote online or by SMS, and those attending the programme at Al Raha Beach Theatre were able to vote on the set.

Mr Baiti said poetry would be his focus in the future and that he would consider leaving his job in Syria, "which is far from poetry and culture", to dedicate himself to "writing, culture and poetry". "My poetry is still shaping up, and I am not deciding which direction I am going," Mr Baiti said. "It is somehow mature, but not fully. I would say my poetry is based on contradictions. It contains emotional, intellectual and mental contradictions."

He described the televised competition as a landmark event. "The Prince of Poets, as a contest, is one of its kind in history, and I am not even exaggerating. It is the most important poetry contest throughout the Arab history, because it is the only contest through which you can reach the Arab audience everywhere in a matter of a few episodes. "This has never happened before. It is happening, thanks to Abu Dhabi. The contest also had a high-calibre panel of critics."

Mr Baiti's wife, Zubaida Dayyoub, said her husband had been anxious but determined throughout the contest. "I felt he was going to win when we got into the hall today," she said. "The feeling comes and goes, but I felt, somehow, he would be chosen. When it happened, I felt it was not real; it was like a dream." One judge, Nayef al Rashdan, praised the poem that Mr Baiti recited on the final night as having great artistic value and said it marked him as "a masterly poet".

Dr Salah Fadhil, another of the judges, described Mr Baiti's poem as "the best cure for the soul", and that his words were "like a song with beautiful lyrics". In the final test for the poets, each was required to match a line of poetry from a great Arabic poet of the past, composing a line on the spot and imitating the rhythm and the rhyming scheme. The poets received their awards from Sheikh Omar bin Zayed Al Nahyan, aide de camp to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Presentations were also made by Mohammad Khalaf al Mazrouei, director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach). The Prince of Poets competition is held under the auspices of Adach. The final night was attended by Sultan al Amimi, the head of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation's newly established poetry academy, which hopes to foster a revival of classical Arabic poetry. The event also featured Iraq's Kazim al Saher, who has been dubbed the "Caesar of Arabic Music".

The Prince of Poets competition, which features Arabic poetry in all its forms - whether classical or free verse - aims to uncover talent and hone the poetry skills of the young. More than 7,500 poems were submitted to the show, of which 1,000 were chosen as official entries. The judging committee interviewed 300 poets in May and selected 35 to compete. This season, the six women on the programme were the most in any season of the competition.

The contest is named after the late Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi, whose peers gave him the title "Prince of Poets" in 1927. hhassan@thenational.ae