Million's Poet finalist defies death threats
July 28, 2010 2:53 PM   Subscribe

“When I unveil the truth, a monster appears from his hiding place; barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt; “He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorising people and preying on everyone seeking peace; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.”
With these words, delivered in full traditional dress, Hissa Hilal, mother of four, housewife and Saudi feminist advanced to the final round earlier this year in Abu Dhabi’s Million’s Poet television show. With a poem (partially translated above) inspired by what she terms subversive fatwas. In the finals she took 3rd place with the following:

My poems! When your critics seek flaws in you, they will be overwhelmed when they find none.
When you suffer from drought during a summer, I will pour meanings into you until your thirst is quenched.
Defeat fear and conquer every frightening cave.
Do not live life with one eye looking behind.
Any illusion that seeks to find a nest in you, make it fly.
Scare it away from your thoughts and ambitions.

Illuminate and realise your potential, and feel what God has given you.
The feeling of helplessness never helps the weak. If you step back, you will be gone.
For courage, there is a price. O, honest one.
When night and coward people renounce you,
When faint-hearted get scared even from the sound of the bullets,
When rumours increase around you, through genuine verses, you can kill any illusion.
You have come with thought exposing fodder-seekers.

You would think friends will praise you.
Your honesty is itself a slap in the face of all falsehood.
Those who are used to only compliments will be annoyed.
He will get jealous who wags his tail when he sees the bread.
When you prefer to stay hungry out of pride.
He who has no conscience hates you.
In his darkness he is immersed, he does not see your light.
What benefits the scum when standing in your way?

When every free voice remains supportive of you do not fear his snake hiss.
You have a waving wing; you will not be betrayed by your open skies.
Bring the good news to he who wants to be your ally.
When you fly and no one can reach you in the sky.
posted by edgeways (16 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
thank you for this interesting and unusual post. she reminds me of the Russian woman poet who became of the voices of revolution (but can't recall the name right now) - more so here since finding a voice is one of the most difficult things for women brought up in conservative and patriarchal cultures.
posted by infini at 2:58 PM on July 28, 2010


That was 3rd place? What the hell took 1st?
posted by boo_radley at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


from the voanews article:
The Million's Poet competition was launched in 2006 and was designed to promote the native poetry of the Arabian Peninsula, known an Nabati.

The show, which has been compared to the American Idol talent competition series in the United States, gets its name from the $1.3 million prize awarded to the winner.

Thirty-year-old Nasser al-Ajami of Kuwait was named this year's Million's Poet champion, earning the $1.3 million prize.
Mowraqi secured $1 million for his second-place finish, while Hilal takes home $800,000 for third.
A televised poetry competition thats a hit with viewers and pays serious prizes. Fascinating. I think I read somewhere that the contestants had to improvise for some of the rounds.
posted by memebake at 3:06 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


And Hissa Hilal is awesome too of course, but even the idea of the competition is awesome.
posted by memebake at 3:07 PM on July 28, 2010


No US TV network would ever create or air a poetry competition like this precisely because contestants would recite poems like this on TV.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:37 PM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


What a hero! Meanwhile here in the U.S., Billy Collins was our poet laureate.
posted by a sourceless light at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2010


I would tune in to see an American Idol-styled poetry contest. But if it was all poetry slam participants, I would tune out again.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:56 PM on July 28, 2010


It doesn't even rhyme. What kind of poetry doesn't rhyme?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 3:59 PM on July 28, 2010


Does liking this mean I can't like Billy Collins anymore?
posted by found missing at 4:15 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


“He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorising people and preying on everyone seeking peace; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.”

...the way I felt during the run up to the invasion of Iraq.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:11 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]




I once read that in the heart of every Saudi lies the heart of a poet. For the tasks westerners would find to be mundane a common person would respond with poetic flourish. For example, after a hospital stay a Bedouin would compose a poem off the cuff for his doctor in praise of the medical craft.

How wonderful that the Saudi's have taken an admirable cultural trait and pressed it into their pop culture.
posted by banal evil at 7:37 PM on July 28, 2010


It seems the contest is not held in Saudi Arabia but in the United Arab Emirates, drawing competitors from all over the Arabian peninsula.
posted by yomimono at 8:19 PM on July 28, 2010


The poem probably does rhym in Arabic. I have to say that this poem is not impressive in translation. The poem comes off a bit preachy, not that I disagree with what she has to say.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:27 PM on July 28, 2010


I've lived in the Middle East when the show was on. Interest there was massive, massive, massive. I am sad to add that "Cops" and "The Jerry Springer Show" were also among the offerings.
posted by ambient2 at 10:39 PM on July 28, 2010


Poetry doesn't always translate that well, even non-poetic Arabic can seem extremely preachy and over flowery if translated literally and that goes even more for poems. This style of Arabic poetry is also very oral, definitely meant to be recited rather than read.

Here's some video:

“When I unveil the truth, a monster appears from his hiding place; barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt; “He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorising people and preying on everyone seeking peace; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.”
posted by atrazine at 3:23 AM on July 29, 2010


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