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Poetry, Competition, and Courage

July 28, 2010

via MetaFilter, I learned the story of Hissa Hilal, a Saudi woman poet whose subversive, confrontational poetry has made her a finalist on the Saudi game show Million’s Poet. As a finalist, she stands to win the equivalent of $1,000,000. And she could win a bigger prize- she could win the whole game. The judges have praised her courage for speaking out through her poetry. She’s also received death threats.

Rough translation, provided by the story.

“When I unveil the truth, a monster appears from his hiding place; barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt [referring to suicide bombing];”

Whoa. I’m curious what it sounds like in its original language. Also, curious in a larger sense about Saudi poetry, structures and metrics.

Most of all, though, I’m floored by the courage of a woman who speaks truth to power in her poetry. In a country where the cultural conventions and religious laws demand that she do so wearing a full veil.

Although her face is covered so that only a thin sliver remains for her eyes, her poetry gives the sense that she’s staring the judges and her society, full in the face.

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