Opening Up the Creative Process: The pARTicipate Poems
On June 18, Beyond the Mall and Rooftop Rhythms hosted four poets who live and work in the United Arab Emirates for an interactive poetry writing session. We invited the artists and the audience to create works that broadly interpreted the theme of the 2020 Festival: cultural knowledge and the environment. In this writing challenge conceived by Dorian Paul Rogers of Rooftop Rhythms, the artists wrote new poems in front of a virtual audience, using words and subjects supplied by that audience via the live chat.
Undaunted by the outpouring of ideas from the audience—not to mention the prospect of writing in public with a twenty-minute time limit—the artists embraced the unpredictable, unpolished nature of the interactive format. Although they worked with the same inputs and constraints, their voices are strikingly distinct, as evident even in their first drafts. Below are the final versions of the pieces that they began crafting during the livestream.
Spoken word poetry is meant to be performed aloud, so we encourage you to watch and listen to the video for the poets’ readings of the early versions of these works.
Spoken-word poetry is about community. In keeping with its revolutionary roots and collective spirit, spoken-word artists often address critical social issues in their performances, and they use open mic nights or slams (competitive poetry events) as public forums to open important conversations. Our event with Rooftop Rhythms occurred during the early days of ongoing anti-racist protests worldwide, which the artists acknowledged with an opening statement of solidarity.
In the UAE, spoken word is often performed in English or multilingually, and the spoken-word form also resonates with specific local traditions of oral literature in many languages. Rooftop Rhythms’s all-Arabic open mic nights are flourishing, bringing this young and vital performance genre into dialogue with the many styles of traditional and classical poetry that remain vibrant across the Arabic-speaking world.
In these poems below, the relationship of language and identity intersects with audience-supplied words like “neo-colonialism” and the ambiguous “hyphenated human.” Reflecting the life experiences that cross national and cultural borders, Jaysus Zain includes some words in Arabic, and Danabelle Gutierrez some terms in Tagalog, one of the languages of the Philippines. In the artists’ distinctive styles, these new works evoke natural, political, and imagined landscapes.
We extend our gratitude to the artists for their participation and for permission to reproduce their poems.
The Warm Winds
By Dorian Paul Rogers
There is a warm wind that dances through the palm leaves. My neighbor’s conversation wafts in to my kitchen window. I hear something about kushari, or was that karak tea? The wind breathes and gasps – tired from last night’s sandstorm. It coughs microscopic glass and ground seashells and then stops – a moment of silence for all breaths that have been stopped by unnatural causes.
I hear thunder in my belly. The lightning reaches its fingertips to the back of my tongue. I try to focus on tonight’s menu. The oven opens its mouth wide to welcome my dish of the day - pan seared colonialism over-seasoned with justice. I ran out of sea salt. I. don’t want to interrupt my neighbor’s banter, so I use a net to catch a rainbow which dangles hope from my balcony.
I overhear another neighbor. This time it’s their heartbeat. It drifts by my window. The pitter patter is a sanctuary to my eardrums which haven’t been beaten for months. My heart has been quarantined and lost all perspective.
I miss my own footsteps which have been limited to my bedroom, the TV, and back to this kitchen. I want to re-brand my footsteps and walk the trail to that neighbor and join that conversation. It’s time to gain new perspective and add a new recipe to my cookbook.
A burning smell wakes me out of my daydream as the warm winds waft char and ash out of the oven. It seems that neo-colonialism doesn’t cook well, doesn’t acquiesce and tenderize to freedom, justice, reform, and tolerance.
I run to the light switch to fight the power. The fire alarm screams at me as it perches on its refuge of the ceiling. The neighbor’s conversation is totally drowned out by my wife as she screams at me to stop trying to cook that which doesn’t want to be served. The warm winds continue to blow.
I wait by the window for that next conversation to waft my way.
By Jaysus Zain
Word. انسان (Human)
Can we all agree that it’s time for a conversation
Can we all agree that our power is our unity
When did humanity lose its meaning
maybe within this sandstorm of negativity
cold winter breeze words don’t come with ease
when it comes to peace
Word. انسان (In-Saan) (Human)(humane) origin (النسيان) (Al- Nes-yan) (forgetfulness)
they told me words may break my bones but forgot to mention it shatters your dreams
hope for justice in my horizon
as life dances with me
searching for connectivity beyond black squares in my feed
Neo-Colonialism all around me
but Earth has always been stronger it seems
canvas of last year’s theme tolerance in every heartbeat
I’ll share my sunlight if you share your rainbow with me
footprints of optimism paints tomorrow’s reality
Fight the power until the power is handed to we
Goddesses of a new dawn aurora weaving this tapestry
Together so wholly / Holi
with Rhythms of ancestry
Wave of authenticity
Sanctuary in my identity
pure souls like you and me
inclusion my serenity
repair us one
By Mohammed Anis
The endurance of a soul can only last as long as conversation, not ego competition posing as virtue like neocolonialism.
Today, we fight the power, forgetting the footprints that brought us here, groveling for authenticity in an identity sandstorm.
Today, peace is the sustainable lie that sells; they push us into a labyrinth posing as a sanctuary, a construct made out of hyphenated humans.
A LYRIC, UNITED
By Danabelle Gutierrez
I am inspired to create a lyric,
united. Walk away from neo-
colonialism, lover of anything
foreign and removed from the self.
Pinay, Filipina, Kayumanggi:
Think meaning, think action,
spark conversation about power
and who holds it; authenticity and
who are you? The answer always
depends on who’s asking. Keep
asking. Who am I? I am here.
Warm winds dancing across
the desert’s horizon, the way
the aurora dances in the north.
South-east wanders to the middle
and I wonder as I scribble these
verses incoherent if it resonates.
The rhythm attempts to reconnect,
feeds into the groove, like a chant,
like a mantra. I am and I am not
who I am. I am and I am not where
I am. The challenge is not to answer
questions, but to keep asking. Curiosity
will kill the cat, but vindication will
bring it back. Who am I? I am and I am
not inspired, and perspectives earthquake
and groundswell onto my blank canvas.
I can not tell the cat what to do. Who
are you? Are you inspired by the
footprints on the freedom trail, left
by hyphenated humans repairing generations
in the sanctuary of the written word?
Rebecca Fenton is the program co-curator for United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.