How Emirati poet Hoor Al Nuaimi fuses the best of Arabic and English in her work

The writer is set to embark on a prestigious scholarship to Oxford University next year

Emirati poet Hoor Al Nuaimi is set to study at Oxford University in the UK next year. NYU Abu Dhabi
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For Hoor Al Nuaimi, celebrating the UAE’s 49th National Day next week will be particularly poignant, as it falls just before she embarks on a prestigious overseas adventure.

Just two weeks ago, the Abu Dhabi resident found out she was one of two Emirati students heading to Oxford University in the UK, and she still can't believe it.

As a recipient of the renowned Rhodes scholarship, the NYU Abu Dhabi senior will undertake a two-year programme at the world-famous university, where she will study the complexities of international law and governance.

"Time has already moved so fast and I am getting even more excited," she tells The National. " Inshallah in September 2021 I will be there."

Al Nuaimi's time ensconced within Oxford's Hogwarts-like 11th-century grounds and the surrounding idyllic town should also provide ample inspiration for continuing her literary pursuits – part of which will be on display on Wednesday, November 25, as part of NYU Abu Dhabi's Hekayah concert.

Forming part of the university's The Arts Centre events season, the annual National Day celebration hosts a number of local and international talents, who will perform poetry that touches upon the multiculturalism, dynamism and tolerance that defines the UAE.

While the pandemic forced the event to move online this year, Al Nuaimi, 21, finds the format a blessing in disguise.

Describing herself as primarily a writer, this will be her first time sharing her work with an audience, even if it is pre-recorded.

“I have never performed or shared my work with anyone before, so this is a good opportunity to finally step out of the bubble and raise my voice,” she says. “I don’t know if I would have done it if the event was physically held live.”

Style and form

The performed work, Turmeric, is a neat distillation of Al Nuaimi's interests and creative process.

A piece that reflects on Emirati women’s relationships with tradition and modernity, it is an English poem that underwent redrafts in Arabic.

Like her short stories, Al Nuaimi initially wrote the piece in English and then translated it into Arabic, before retranslating it to English for the final draft.

Al Nuaimi admits it can be an arduous and rigorous process, but the creative rewards are rich.

“With every single translation, I find a new metaphor and motif that I expand on when reworking the poem,” she says. “I really love this constant cycle of creating and recreating.”

The method also gave her a deeper appreciation of the nuances and literary possibilities that come with both English and Arabic.

“Arabic is amazing when it comes to the variety of metaphors, because a lot of the words are so loaded with various meanings,” she says. “And while the English language doesn’t have as many metaphors, it provides a sense of structure and form that is very useful.”

Her upcoming debut work

Al Nuaimi is using the same approach for her debut collection of short stories.

Hoping to release it next year, she says the yet-to-be-titled book features stories set in the UAE with a cast of strong local women.

“The story follows the different objects in the lives of these Emirati women,” she says. “I explore these relationships, with the writing less focused on a plot but more on language and characters. It is very allegorical.”

Hekayah will stream on Wednesday, November 25, at 7pm from NYU Abu Dhabi The Arts Centre's Facebook page. More details are at nyuad-artscenter.org

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