Creation of Nabati poetry academy prompted by success of TV shows

The success of the shows' Prince of Poets and Millions Poet has inspired the UAE's first Nabati poetry academy.

Sultan al Amimi is a specialist in Nabati poetry.
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ABU DHABI // The success of the television programmes Prince of Poets and Millions Poet has inspired the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation to establish the UAE's first Nabati poetry academy to embrace the revival of the historic art. Budding poets are already enrolling in the academy, which will open for its first classes in August. Students from countries such as Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have also shown interest.

The courses will target adults and will be held during evenings and weekends. Founded by Sultan al Amimi, the academy already has four teachers, but is looking to hire more. The school has been recognised by the Ministry of Education and is in talks with the UK's Oxford University, which already runs courses in Nabati poetry, to work in partnership. "It's very difficult to find experts in this field," said Mr Amimi, a Nabati poetry expert and academic. "It's a very specialised topic and something most of our poetry experts and academics are not proficient in."

The academy will offer degree or diploma certificates within two years. "You can't teach people poetry," he said. "You can guide and advise them, but if it's not inside you already, you can't force it." Included in the courses will be poetry written by contestants from Abu Dhabi TV's Millions Poet, the show credited with sparking the renewed interest in the ancient form of poetry. "Nabati is not a new kind of art, but Millions Poet has brought it into more popular culture, not just here but across the region," Mr Amimi said.

"We have a very old history of Nabati poetry. It has been recited for over 1,000 years, but it's never been written down. Instead, it was recited and passed down from generation to generation. We have a strong oral tradition and it is for this reason that I felt there was a need for the academy. "People felt that there was nowhere to learn how to write and study good poetry before Millions Poet. There was no Nabati poetry anywhere. Even Prince of Poets was classical Arabic poetry, unlike Millions Poet.

"The universities and schools only study classical Arabic poetry because it's the standard poetry of the Arab world, but in the UAE and in this region, Nabati poetry is our culture and heritage. "Nabati is derived from the dialect so it is not a recognised form of poetry. As a result, people didn't feel it was important or worthy of study." Mr Amimi and his team have travelled to many of the country's remote regions, including Bedouin villages, collating poetry for archives through voice and video recordings.

"It's important to speak with the older generations and gather this poetry, people who live in all the far-flung areas of the country who have generations of culture and history within their poetry," says Mr Amimi. In what has become known as the year of national identity in the Emirates, the academy slots into a market that is ready to embrace its history and culture. "Before the 1950s, nobody went to school. There was no need to read or write. Everything was verbal so poems were one of the ways to learn. It was a way of remembering feelings, their lives, history, everything.

"The poetry of the older generations can explain very important things, which we would otherwise never know. "Many poems talk about things such as daily life at home and the wars and rivalry between families and tribes. "We're gathering history at a time when we've become acutely aware of national identity. "It's the first time that we can actually have all this written down and it's a good thing for the emirates.

"It's our identity to know our history and understand it. It's very important for us to be doing this." The academy is based at the Cultural Foundation, but will build bigger premises to cater for the large number of students expected over the coming years.