Two television shows, one goal – to revive Arabic poetry

Ahead of the sixth season of the TV series Prince of Poets, we look at the common ground it shares with Million's Poet and how the two shows – with the former showcasing poetry written in classical Arabic and the latter created to revive poetry that is recited in the ancient Nabati, or Bedu dialect – resonate worldwide.

Sultan Al Ameemi, right, with members of the Million’s Poet judging panel. Courtesy Sultan Al Ameemi

Sultan Al Ameemi is the editor-in-chief of Million's Poet magazine, a monthly publication on poetry, literature and cultural heritage. He is also associated with two television poetry competitions that are broadcast on Abu Dhabi TV – as a judge on Million's Poet and as a member of the higher committee for the Prince of Poets.

There is one distinct difference between the two TV programmes: the form of Arabic used. Million's Poet was created to revive poetry that is recited in the ancient Nabati, or Bedu dialect, which also includes the Mwal, Shalla and Qalta dialects and is more than 1,000 years old. Prince of Poets showcases poetry written in classical Arabic. Both shows are broadcast live from Al Raha Beach Theatre, both shows are funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), and both shows are wildly popular, not only in the Middle East, but also across the world.

From Saturday, January 31, until Monday, February 2, Al Ameemi and members of the jury will interview 300 poets from 29 countries – shortlisted from the thousands of submissions of classical Arabic poetry sent in by contestants eager to take part in Prince of Poets. That number will then be whittled down to 20 in the course of three days and live filming for the show will start next month, launching the sixth season of Prince of Poets on Abu Dhabi TV. A specific date has not yet been announced.

“This programme is an original and creative project that provides contemporary Arab poets, both men and women, with a chance to compete in front of millions of viewers,” says Al Ameemi.

Once the season ends this year, TCA will begin receiving submissions of Nabati poetry for Mill­ion's Poet, which will be broadcast in 2016 – the two shows alternate by year.

Over the past five seasons, Prince of Poets has introduced to the world 145 poets between the ages of 18 and 48 and has become a major cultural event in the Arab region. The first prize is a symbolic gown and ring – and Dh1 million.

"We expected the shows to succeed when we launched, but not to this huge extent," says Al Ameemi. "They have become the most popular shows in the Arab world; when we saw the reactions, we were amazed. We've received coverage in European and Asian countries. We have had poets who aren't even Arab – around four years ago, we had a young Pakistani who didn't know Arabic at all but taught himself the language because he wanted to take part in Million's Poet. That's how much the poetry resonates with people and we're so thankful to have revived a love for it."