Forget ‘American Idol,’ Tune into ‘The Million’s Poets’
OK, I admit it, I don’t really know what they are saying on “The Million’s Poets,” one of the most popular television shows in the Arab world. But I have been obsessively trolling YouTube and whatever English-language Arab newspapers I can find to follow the show. It’s an American Idol-esque poetry competition in which competitors recite their own poetry to a television audience of seven million, who then vote for the winner.
I am rooting for Hessa Hilal, a Saudi journalist and mother of four, who recites fearless poetry criticizing the violent messages of hard-line Muslim clerics, the isolation of women in Arab society, and the American involvement in Iraq. She performs her poems in a traditional head-to-toe abaya. Listening to her read challenges my preconceptions of Arab society and the significance of the veil. Like a lot of Westerners, I hold a stereotype of Arab women as cowed in silence under their covering. Seeing Hissa, I realize it is possible to speak—and to speak powerfully—from behind the veil.
Since the show’s beginning in early February, she has regularly received death threats.
My scavenging for information turned up a real gem this week: A BBC interview with Hissa in English. In the interview she talks about why she wears the abaya, what her victory would mean for Arab women, and her love for Charles Dickens.
We find out tomorrow if she will win the million dirhams prize (about $270,000). I’ll try to keep you updated!
Here are some of the other YouTube clips I found of poets reciting their poetry on “The Million’s Poets,” including last year’s main female challenger. Again, I can’t understand the language, but I am blown away by the rhythm of the words and I love how the audience participates.
Again, I stress I don’t know Arabic, so I’d love to hear any insights folks have in the comment field!
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