ABU DHABI // The next winner of Prince of Poets, the hugely popular television contest, may well turn out to be a "Princess".
Half of the 20 poets who will compete in the first stage of the show’s seventh season, which will be broadcast on Tuesday night, are women.
“This is the highest rate of female participation, compared to 25 per cent in the fifth season,” said Sultan Al Amimi, director of the Poetry Programme at Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.
The committee organises Prince of Poets and other Arabic poetry shows including Million's Poet and Al Shara.
“In the past, female poets didn’t have the courage to compete against men but that doesn’t mean they’re not poetically talented,” Mr Al Amimi said.
The higher number of female contestants would put more pressure on the men. “Male poets are always worried to have competition with females,” Mr Al Amimi said. “It makes it more challenging for them, which is good because it makes it more entertaining to watch.”
The latest season of Prince of Poets will be presented by Emirati Mohammed Al Junaibi, alongside Lebanese poet and journalist Nadine Al Asaad. It will be broadcast live on Baymouna and Al Emerat.
Every Tuesday evening from 10pm for the next five weeks, the contestants will take to the stage at Abu Dhabi’s Raha Beach Theatre to delight audiences with their poems.
The number of poets will be whittled down to the top five, who will battle it out in a war of words in the final on April 25.
The backdrop of the stage will depict some of the city’s landmarks, including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
“With these decorative elements, we hope to bring into play the future vision and cultural renaissance that the UAE is witnessing as a whole,” said Issa Al Mazrouei, director of the Department for Special Policies and Projects.
With one of the highest viewer rates in the region – more than 20 million viewers last season – the show has contributed to a growing interest in Arabic poetry, particularly among the youth.
"In the age of speed, sophistication and new information technology, Prince of Poets has grown into a surprising phenomenon," Mr Al Mazrouei said.
"As the Arab world is making sense of poetry again to communicate, Prince of Poets is playing a key role."
Over the past 10 years the show has shone a spotlight on 185 poets, aged between 18 and 45. Winners are chosen through a mix of public voting and decisions made by a three-men jury panel.
This year a voting application is being launched to encourage voter participation.
“This app will make it less costly for people to vote,” Mr Mazrouei said. “We want to be able to connect with a wider audience.”
This year’s contestants come from 12 Arab countries, including Emirati Ali Al Shamsi. Previous winners were from the UAE, Mauritania, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Voters are free to pick poets from their own nationality, raising the question of whether the winners end up reflecting the nationality of voters.
“We’ve noticed that many people don’t vote for poets from their own countries,” said Mr Al Amimi.
“Through this project, Abu Dhabi seeks to highlight the message of poetry that calls for the spread of love, peace and tolerance among this people of this world.”