'Prince of Poets' title goes to Yemeni scholar

Popular Egyptian participant comes up short despite fiery poems about revolution in his home country.

Yemeni poet Abdul Aziz Al Zaraei is crowned as the new "Prince of Poets"

Courtesy ADACH
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ABU DHABI // Shock, sobs and cheers erupted among emotional Egyptian fans when Hisham al Jakh, the poet who caused a stir by criticising Arab leaders amid revolution in his home country, did not win the title on the final episode of Prince of Poets on Wednesday night.

Instead, Abdul Aziz al Zoraei, from Yemen, was crowned the victor by Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed, head of the Zayed Giving Charity Foundation, during the finale of the television show’s fourth season on Wednesday night. Al Jakh finished second.

“I have not awakened from the shock of not winning the title yet,” al Jakh said yesterday. “I planned [all the steps to be taken after the show] based on winning the competition. Now these plans are gone, so I need to sit with my cast and agent and plan what’s coming next.”

Al Zoraei won Dh1 million in cash, in addition to the “Princely Gown” and the “Princely Ring”.

His poem, illustrating a dialogue between a plant and the sand as a reflection on equality, moderation and understanding, won the jury’s top score.

Dr Salah Fadel, a jury member, described the poet’s references to nature as a great poetic moment, with which he was able to “arouse pain” while “building the verses and playing tones”.

He specifically pointed to a verse that said: “Our beach is still dreaming of a human, as if the wishes floating above it are swans.”

Dr Ali bin Tamim, another member of the jury, said the poem dealt with the notion of forgiveness in a beautiful way.

“I spent three days writing the piece and thinking about it,” al Zoraei said yesterday. “I feel it is the best I presented throughout the competition, because it was the closest topic to my poetry experience.”

The 26-year-old dean of Arabic language at the University of Sanaa said he expected to win, as the jury had been impressed and given him positive feedback after the last two rounds.

He said he started his journey as a poet in high school, after his mother died. “I just felt that I needed to write a poem … and that was the beginning.”

Al Zoraei plans to “start my life” with the prize. “I’ll get married and start a family. I will also find ways to help my village. And I’m planning to do a charity project with the money, I haven’t decided what exactly, but I know I want to do that,” he added.

Al Jakh continued to speak in revolutionary tones in his poem, The Last Message.

“Discuss and argue and listen to the voice of the masses, only the groups of the deaf cannot hear,” one verse said.

“There were a number of speakers in your poem, I saw the river of love flowing in Egypt, and it was illustrated in the dialogue that replaced the heavy silence,” Dr Fadel said.

“You have portrayed the revolution of your people in a beautiful way. The flower of poetry continues to grow between your fingers, so water it with the water of a heart.”

Mountazar al Moussawi, from Oman, won third place, while Najah al Arsan, from Iraq, was fourth and Jordan’s Mohammed Turki Hijazi came in fifth.

The Poetry Academy – part of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which organises Prince of Poets – publishes audio-visual poetry albums of the five winners.

The second-place winner earned Dh500,000 and a silver medal; third place gets Dh300,000 prize and a bronze medal; fourth place Dh200,000 and a bronze medal; and fifth place Dh100,000 and a bronze medal.