Palestine, UAE
The Arts

Stepping Up: She’s young, brave, and hitting poetry big time

Farah Chamma began writing poems at age 13, got onstage at 15, and never looked back. With her recent videos drawing over 200,000 viewers around the world, she tells how she found spoken-word poetry and where she wants to take it next.

How did you start performing?

By 15 I had written around 100 poems, all very simple. I thought it might be good to share my poetry with a group, and came across the Poeticians, run by filmmaker and poet Hind Shoufani.

Performing to an audience was very intimidating at first. I was shaking and so scared; it wasn’t natural for me to speak poetry that I’d been writing on my own. And since that day I never stopped.

When I started performing my style changed completely. I started focusing on how a poem sounds and on subjects that were deeper and more global. So I began writing about Palestine, our identity crisis. “I am no Palestinian” was my first poem about something really socially engaging.

Does it make a difference to your poetry that you’re a woman?

When I started I never thought about gender. But the fact that female spoken-word artists are not very common in the Arab world is making me think that maybe gender does play a role in this case. The fact that I’m a woman and choose to speak my poetry in public might encourage other women to do the same, since, let’s face it, the Arabic spoken-word scene is mainly male-dominated.

What inspired you to write in Arabic?

I started asking myself, why am I writing in English? My Arabic is weaker than my English so I started reading more and listening to Hisham Al-Jukh and Tameem Al-Burghouthi, especially, and this is how I started to write Arabic.

What inspires me is the idea that the Arabic language can be used in ways that are energetic. Arabic poetry is usually sung, but Arabic poetry is still very classical and this is what makes young people not want to write it.

In Arabic you don’t have the slam. There’s no spoken word scene; a young scene doesn’t exist. So we’re trying to create it, and we’re thinking about creating an Arabic-only poetry scene. The videos and how fast they’re spreading is proof to me that people are thirsty for Arabic poetry.

For more info – Farah on Youtube

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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