Have you ever experienced extraordinary moments that surprise and enchant you? I was recently transported to this ineffable state of being whilst sitting under the stars with two incredibly talented spoken word poets, Farah Chamma and Dana Dajani. We shared a magical evening together exploring personal journeys, stories, song and poetry. An evening I will never forget.
Spoken Word Poetry
Welcome to an art form that’s recited and performed on stage, highlighting the richness of word play, intonation and voice articulation. On trend nowadays, Word Poetry embraces diverse modalities like poetry slams, jazz poetry, hip hop, traditional poetry readings, even comedy routines and prose monologues.
Poetry – the Clear Expression Of Mixed Feelings
Farah: Poetry can make me laugh, helping me to celebrate beauty as it allows me to express pain. I began writing after my parents divorced to transcend my anger. My father moved to Brazil and remarried, and I stayed in Sharjah with my mother, who is my rock in life. At 17 I became confused with my identify and started wearing the hijab. I was trying to figure things out and thought religion would support me, but it didn’t last long. When I performed spoken word poetry, I gained confidence. Poetry allows me to channel my feelings in a way that’s healing and creative.
Dana: Poetry processes feelings, helping me to come to terms with the bittersweet reality of life on earth. When I was 14 my family moved to Riyadh, from Jordan. It was there that I started writing, but the trigger into poetry was kick started when Al Qaeda attacked our residential compound in 2003. Thirty-nine people were killed, and over 160 wounded when bombs went off at three compounds. The incident changed my life; it was devastating. We then left to the US to recover and afresh. My father left his job and had to start over. Writing helped me heal from the incident; it became my therapy and my lifeline.
You both got into poetry at a young age. What did you do to develop your passion?
Farah: When I was 13 I use to write for Poetry Soup online and published over 200 poems with them. At 16 I began attending the Poeticians, a group of writers and listeners that have come together to share their work. That’s where I met Hind Shoufani, the founder, she has been a powerful influence in my life. These poetry events would often happen in bars and I would go with my mother, sometimes dressed in costume for my performances.
Dana: When we left to the US after the terrorist attack, writing took over. I wrote for my high school magazine and entered writing competitions. When I graduated high school, my parents moved to Dubai and I stayed behind to attend the University of Kansas to study Business and English. I hated it and desperately wanted to study theatre. So against my parents’ wishes, I switched my major, finishing my degree in Chicago. When I moved to Amman I met Hind Shoufani and also joined the Poeticians, and it’s an inspiring community to be a part of. The talented poets that grew to become a tight knit group of Arab female poets encouraged me.
In what ways does your creative expression, strengthen your identity as young Palestinian women born outside of Palestine?
Farah: Being who I am and defining myself through poetry and telling my story, is enough. If I keep dwelling on being Palestinian, I fall into a box that limits me. Yes, I am Palestinian, and I am proud, but I have other things to talk about like life, death, spirituality; universal themes we all deal with.
Dana: I have countless angles to unveil; as a humanist, a woman, a third culture kid, an environmentalist. My poem Love Letter from Palestine that gained popularity was written through my passion for theatrical performance. It felt more authentic to tell the story of Palestine through a universal character, instead of via my own personal experiences.
Since poetry is not a mainstream medium, people nowadays are not familiar with the power of poetry to break open heart and foster change. What would you say to them?
Farah: Fairuz, Um Kulthoum, Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen sing poetry. Those who say, “Poetry is boring” have an image of classroom romantic poetry about daffodils perhaps. I cannot say, “Music is boring” just as I cannot say that I do not like one genre of music.
Dana: Poetry is intrinsic to our human evolution. Poetry is how knowledge was handed down, through oral tradition that was presented in verse because the rhythm made it the stories memorable. Poetry will always be current, through folklore, hip-hop, slam and beyond. It is engrained in our DNA. I have two, music and poetry collaborations – 1 soulful acoustic and 1 electronic. I find when people hear spoken word through music they feel it deeply and naturally connect to it. Even those who don’t care for poetry feel it. Performance poetry is more affective and captures the heart; it is more powerful when and enacted rather than just read.
What do well-written poems have in common and what do poorly written poems have in common?
Farah: Poetry is like storytelling and spoken word pieces allow you to improvise with other mediums like music. It’s adaptable on stage. I love to improvise my poems with music. A good poem feels genuine. I dislike preachy poems, even though I have written one called The Shisha, which I find very unpleasant.
Dana: When I write something from the heart I feel it’s well written. There is a journey, there’s an introduction to a concept that comes full circle. I’m a big fan of metaphor that highlights a semblance or similarity that is so simple and eloquent, or so complex and appropriate. But ultimately a good poem comes from a deep truth. That trick is to add personal experience that you can relate to. I love word play and rhythm; it’s my style. To me interesting metaphors that allow you to reimagine something. It takes practice and the more you write the more you get through the old tropes. If you’re not writing every day, you will produce regurgitations of what people have heard before.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
Dana: I write every day because I filter through the mundane and then can start to find one’s inner voice. Perform often as practice makes perfect, and sometimes the ball drops on the 50th time I perform something. Sometimes I have an epiphany that takes the performance to a whole new level.
Farah: If you’re already writing you are already in the mode of expression. If you have the urge to express, go with it. It’s important not to look at poetry as this grand thing that’s going to change the world; it should be done for you. Some of the simplest poems have opened my mind and helped me understand the world.
Who are your favorite poets?
Where do you go from here?
Farah: I want to make Arabic more accessible by writing more Arabic texts and organizing informal workshops where people don’t feel criticized for their imperfect language. Modern Standard Arabic can be intimidating, given that it is not spoken, but rather academic. I often get criticized for my Arabic. I realize it’s not perfect. My biggest step now is going to London to study a wide range of performance. I want to challenge myself on stage with all the taboos I have faced to help me overcome personal fears. I’m also working on finishing a poetry book of my writings.
Dana: Earlier, I felt it was my responsibility to represent the region. I was privileged to have a western democratic education allowing me to be more self-aware, but it’s not my only label. I write myself into and out of mental states poetically. Poetry is a great healing method to find an internal authentic voice, so I would like to publish more. This forthcoming guided journal invites others to speak from the heart. Poetry changes the world by speaking straight to the soul, bypassing the mind. I would love to facilitate writing workshops with these tools in Palestine and worldwide. The Human Spirit Project is my nonprofit commitment to telling stories that highlight the resilience of the human spirit. Stories, poems, films, plays, which bring out our shared similarities, which outweigh our perceived differences. In that way the world gets a little bit smaller, and more empathy is created within communities.
The Poeticians is a group of writers, readers, listeners, lovers and word warriors that have come together to share their work, thoughts, ambitions and fears with small intimate audiences in Beirut, Amman and Dubai. The poets are of all nationalities and read in English, Arabic and French. We had one Italian poem too. Run by Palestinian filmmaker and writer, Hind Shoufani, the group was established in 2007 and has been reading and performing since in three cities.
The group is an elastic entity, with no rules, no boundaries, no censorship, no membership system or structure. We put out the call for a reading, and you join us. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.