Prince of Poets competitor causes stir

In the poem Al Ta'asheera, Hisham al Gakh writes that Arabic people should be able to easily travel to other Arab countries outside their homes.

Hisham al Gakh uses his poetry to express people's suffering and pain.
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ABU DHABI //A Prince of Poets competitor has written a controversial poem, expressing his belief that Arabic people should be able to easily travel to other Arab countries outside their homes. He is hoping that fans will award him the first-place title in the competition. Samar al Huneidi reports

Hisham al Gakh has more than 800 poems on the internet and more than 59,000 Facebook fans, but his poem Al Ta'asheera is the one that has people talking.

A competitor on the popular show Prince of Poets, Al Gakh has caused a stir throughout the Arab world, with his controversial poem that addresses his disappointment that things were not as he expected when he became an adult.

In Al Ta'asheera, he speaks of his dream as a child of sailing to all the Arab countries, believing that all Arabs are brothers, and all Arab countries are his home.

When he grew up, however, he realised that what he was taught as a child is not reality, and he expresses his disappointment in the poem:

And I used to save the songs and poems in my heart and soul

"Arab countries are my home, and all Arabs are my brothers"

And when I grew up, I didn't get a visa to sail

I didn't sail

And the passport with no stamp from that window stopped me

I didn't pass

When I grew up I didn't sail and I didn't pass.

He recites his poem as if addressing it to all Arab rulers; fearlessly expressing his feelings and anger about the problem.

Al Gakh, a one-time university administrator in Egypt and now a full-time poet, said he knew that his poem would spur debate, and said he wrote it for that reason, despite the risks it may carry.

"I didn't write the poem to just sit and read it at home where no one will hear me, I wrote it knowing I will recite it on Prince of Poets, and that all the Arab world will hear me and hear the poem, and I was aware of the security threats that I might receive, I know all this, but I knew it was going to reach people; if I wasn't expecting this why would I write it in the first place?"

Even though Al Gakh was not the judges' choice on the show the night he recited the poem, the next week he was voted by the people to pass to the next stage of the competition.

"I was scared to not get voted for, I can't lie, I was scared, especially that I had strong competition with me like the respectable poet and friend from Qatar. "

Wajeeh Chehadeh, an employee at the First Gulf Bank in Abu Dhabi and a fan of Prince of Poets, said: "Hisham presented his poem in a unique way, and expressed his anger towards a sensitive subject in a somewhat, humourous way. I admire his courage and I was actually surprised he wasn't the judges' choice.

"I think he touched the hearts of a lot of the audience and I was very happy he was voted to the next stage."

Dr Soad al Oraimi, a sociologist at UAE University, says the reason behind the popularity of this poem is that it expresses feelings a lot of Arabic people want to express but cannot. It is not only about a personal experience, but also about a community's problem, Dr al Oraimi said.

"This poem might have opened the people's scars and spoke by their tongues. It was sentimental to them, it spoke their feelings. It made them feel like Hisham is speaking for all of them for the issue of visas, because any Arab doesn't like that they can't go to another Arab country without a visa, feeling like it's their home and they shouldn't need one."

Al Gakh said he sees the talent to write poetry as a gift from God, and that anyone who has such a gift should put it to use.

He has his own website,, where all updates about him and his works can be found.

"I just want to ask people for their prayers for me, because I didn't enter this competition to get fourth or second place," he said.

"I entered this competition, after Allah's permission, to win the title, and without fans and without votes I wouldn't get the title," he said.

• Prince of Poets is an annual cultural competition for Arabic poetry.

• The show airs live on Abu Dhabi TV from Al Raha Beach theatre every Wednesday at 10:30 pm.

• It was launched in 2007 by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

• The first-place winner receives the title Prince of Poets and a cash prize of one million dirhams.

• The poets go through four stages in the contest and the whole competition can consist of up to 10 episodes.