Where poets are superstars

I’ve always said to anyone who would listen that we English speakers could stand to emulate Arabs in their respect for the written and spoken word. Actually, most other cultures give poets and other intellectuals more respect than they get in the Anglophone world, but this story from PRI demonstrates the unusually strong appeal of poetry in the Arabian peninsula.

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9 Comments


  1. Very interesting, and I agree, hard to imagine here.

    I’m sure it’s some bias on my part or that I’ve never learned a word of any arabic language, but I can’t hear even the suggestion of poetry in their languages – the sounds are just so harsh to my romantically-trained ear.

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  2. Harsh? Really? I wouldn’t call that an example of bias; it’s just your impression – but it’s not mine! This kind of thing is really subjective. I was shocked when the esteemed Language Hat opined several months ago that he didn’t find the Spanish language particularly well suited to poety – and he’s fluent in Spanish. (I suspect you’d take exception to that, too.)

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  3. And my impression – having heard Arabic poetry recited by my father-in-law a lot through my life – is that it is far more suited to poetry than English!

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  4. Poetry is one of the Old Magics, universal to humanity. I wouldn’t say Anglophones in general are anti-poet, but yeah, there are different levels of public support between different cultures. America has a problem with overcommercialization, such that if something can’t be sold en masse, then it has trouble finding “affordable” forums. Probably we’ve sublimated a lot of poetic impulse into the music industry, basically because music has a Mass Produced Media Cartel to keep it selling. Of course rap etc. represents a stubborn resurgence of spoken-word poetry….

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  5. Now that I’ve listened to the recorded story…it’s interesting how the tribal loyalties still influence the voting! But Laura, the poetry snatches heard here don’t sound anything like the recited poetry I’ve heard from my family or, say, the poet Adonis. Some of it may be the Gulf accent, but it also sounded like the poets in the contest were shouting in a sort of rap-emulation that definitely emphasized the less mellifluous aspects of the language.

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  6. David – We may not be anti-poet, exactly, but poetry has I think been regarded as something essentially ornamental for a very long time. The loss of generally agreed-upon public standards for what constitutes effective poetry (metrical forms and end-rhyme, to start with) may have had something to do with the decline of poetry’s centrality in modern culture, too, as well as the rise of mass-produced pop culture, as you suggest. Yes, song and rap lyrics partly fill the basic human hunger for intensified and rhythmic language. I can’t say more on this subject without launching into a 2000-word lecture, so I’ll stop there!

    beth – Thanks for your reactions. There may well be a difference between poetry in the Gulf and in the Levant – something to ask your FIL about, I guess. The only thing I’ve read in this connection is an anthropological study of poetry performance in Yemen, which I’ve mentioned here before – Peaks of Yemen I Summon. Considering how often they use poetry as a substitute for, or incitement to, armed conflict there, the more aggressive style you’re hearing might well be endemic, I’m thinking. Or else it was just a really good fit with the global hip-hop aesthetic, and some of the younger performers have adapted their style to reflect that.

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  7. I don’t think so. Today’s post weighed in at almost 1700 words, and it strikes me as about twice as long as a good blog post should be.

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  8. I think, Beth, that it’s mostly just that the sounds are so unfamiliar to my ear. A father-in-law reciting poetry would probably do wonders to change that impression.

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