Al Khaleej interviews Sheikh Mohammed
Q: Your Highness, what has been the greatest influence on your development as a poet?
Sheikh Mohammed: As you know, I was raised in an Arabic and conservative Islamic environment. I have always lived in part of the Arab nation and I have been greatly influenced in both my poetry and my character by the critical historical challenges that it has faced and is still witnessing.
The greatest influence was my father, the late Sheikh Rashid, whose majlis functioned as a university in the real sense of the word. He was also a good leader. From him I learnt to be patient and to deliberate before passing judgment.
I also learnt patience and perseverance from the desert, which has had a great effect on my personality. The sea has also influenced my personality as it raises memories of my ancestors and holds many mysteries.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the first poem you composed ? its title and subject?
Sheikh Mohammed: The first poem I composed has no real importance for me, nor do I consider it to be the true beginning of my writing. However, it did lead me to discover the great Emirati poetess Fatat Al Arab. The poem was on my table and, without my knowledge, a woman took the poem to Fatat Al Arab. I was very surprised when that same lady returned with a response from Fatat Al Arab. This response was very encouraging, as she is a renowned poetess; she would not have responded unless she was fully convinced by the poem. Therefore, I still appreciate her poetry and laud her ability to write creatively.
Q: When you started writing poetry, who influenced you? And how did you become a poet?
Sheikh Mohammed: No poet should say that a particular poet has influenced him, as that means that that poet is just a photocopy of the poet by whom he was influenced. Nevertheless, a poet may, when he begins composing poetry, admire a certain poet, provided that this poet has a distinguishing feature that differentiates him from the poet he has been admired by, and that readers can recognize the poet's own style.
As for how I became a poet, a poet is born a poet and he discovers himself in the course of time and through experience. I began when I was at school and I have cultivated and developed my talent by reading and attending soirées of poets and literary men.
Q: Al Majidi bin Dhaher, Rashid Al Khader, and Bin Laboun are just a few of the famous Nabati poets in the region: what do these names mean to you?
Sheikh Mohammed: I have read, and am still reading, bin Dhaher and I view him as the Al Mutanabi of Nabati. As for Rashid Al Khader, he has a unique style and a dedicated following, and Bin Laboun is the poet of his age.
Q: Your Highness, you have participated in several poetic contests, especially with the poet, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, what do you think of such contests? Do they enhance creativity for both poets?
Sheikh Mohammed: Yes, I have had several contests with Prince Khalid and other renowned poets. This poetic art is greatly appreciated by people as it arouses the spirit of competition between poets. I support and encourage this art because it brings about communication between poets.
Q: What was the most exceptional poetic contest you have had with an Emirati or Gulf poet?
Sheikh Mohammed: I leave the audience to evaluate the most exceptional contest, as the audience is the only judge in this issue ? they are the most qualified to evaluate the beauty of the poetry, especially in the absence of objective criticism in the arena of Nabati poetry. We are, in fact, in need of a real critical movement to cast light on our poetic heritage. What has been written until now cannot be called a critical movement. The studies I have had the chance to review support the argument that we need critics, therefore, I consider the audience as the real critic.
Q: Which of these subjects is most prominent in your poetry: romance, eulogy, your homeland, events and occasions, horses, falcons, proverbs or others?
Sheikh Mohammed: The subjects that my poetry deals with are the same as those dealt with by poets throughout history and in all places. The subjects closest to my heart are those that are closest to people. Romance has always been the fuel of poetry. But I have touched on a variety of themes, whether national, elegiac or otherwise. I believe that if a poet wishes his poetry to be read by people he should constantly seek to bring something new to his verse.
Q: Some believe there to be an intimate relation between Nabati poetry and its classical counterpart. How does this apply to your poems?
Sheikh Mohammed: Classical poetry is the source and the Nabati is one of its branches, exactly like the classical Arabic language and colloquial Arabic. Nabati takes much from classical poetry in terms of style and metre, but frees itself from classical poetry's restrictions. Some Nabati lines can be read as if they are classical; this proves the closeness between both. However, Nabati poetry gives the poet more range to express his themes because it has fewer rules, whereas the classical poet has to follow strict guidelines.
Q: Some people claim that classical poetry still dominates Nabati poetry. What does Your Highness think about this?
Sheikh Mohammed: As I told you earlier, classical poetry is the source. Nabati is not dominated by classical nor vice-versa, as each has its poets. Moreover, classical poetry is more widespread in the Arab world, while Nabati represents the Gulf. This is the difference between the particular and the general.
Q: Have you ever composed classical poetry?
Sheikh Mohammed: Yes, I have written classical poetry. But in classical verse who are you going to compete with? Al Mutanabi, or Abu Tammam, or other great classical poets? It is really difficult. But in Nabati you can compete.
Q: Nabati poetry is originally lyrical, meaning that the metre and the rhythm play a major role in its composition. To what extent do you follow, or disregard, these conventions?
Sheikh Mohammed: I follow the music of poetry. I can write all forms, whether that which follows a structure or modern poetry. But real poetry is that which goes with rhythm. In Nabati, the poet should stick to the rhyming scheme, meaning the end of the first hemistich of each line of the poem should rhyme, and so should the end of the second hemistich of each line. That's why it is difficult to write Nabati if you want to abide by the rules.
Q: How do you evaluate your poems compared to poems of writers from past generations in terms of language, performance and other artistic changes?
Sheikh Mohammed: The past generation had its pioneers. Every generation has its own features that distinguish it from the one before it. This distinction is related to the poet's range of Nabati vocabulary. You can tell how old a poem is from its vocabulary. Every generation has its own vocabulary, even in classical poetry.
The style of poetry has changed and the modern Nabati poem is usually short in terms of the number of lines. Since people nowadays do not have enough time to read a poem of one hundred lines, for instance, they prefer reading a short one. Furthermore, most poems now deal with just one theme, whether romantic, nationalistic or otherwise, and that was not the case in the past.
Q: Whoever reads your poetry generally notices the connection between the different lines of the poem, its components and theme. My question is, do you usually revise and edit your poems after composing and reciting them?
Sheikh Mohammed: Any poet who respects the opinion of his audience must pay attention to his poetry. When you write a certain article that will be published just once then disappear, you review and correct it many times before publication. How about a poem that is expected to live for generations? Yes, I do review and edit my poetry and ask people to criticize it.
Q: Your Highness, which classical and modern poets do you prefer, and why?
Sheikh Mohammed: From the old classical poets, I prefer Al Mutanabi, Al Buhtori and Abu Tammam, and from the modern poets, I prefer Ahmed Shawqi, Hafez Ibrahim, Omar Abu Rishah and Nizar Qabbani. Generally, I like beautiful, good poetry, irrespective of the writer.
Q: And who are your favourite Nabati poets, past and present?
Sheikh Mohammed: Al Majidi bin Dhaher is my favourite Nabati poet from the past. As for the modern ones, you must excuse me, as most of them are my friends and I cannot prefer one to the others.
Q: Your Highness, what are your thoughts about the poetry of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, and the many poetic contests he has taken part in?
Sheikh Mohammed: His Highness the President is an excellent poet and critic. He is a quick-witted poet who can appreciate poetry and respond to it quickly. He also has excellent poetic taste. I have had a number of poetic contests with him, and he is always keen to participate.
Q: Considering that poetry is a social and political record of the nation, how do you view poetry's role in the development of civilization in the UAE in particular and in the Arabian Gulf in general?
Sheikh Mohammed: If poetry fails to express the nation's wishes, dreams, hopes and pains, it has no value. Poetry contributed to the progress of the UAE. We are very proud that Sheikh Zayed is one of our most outstanding and prolific poets.
Q: Do you have any new poems?
Sheikh Mohammed: My latest poem is the sixth riddle. I attempted to create something that is different from other riddles. I hope to hear people's opinions about it.
Q: What is the motive behind your composition of riddles?
Sheikh Mohammed: The motive behind these riddles is to revive an art that people have neglected and to encourage communication between poets all over the region as well as to develop the body of available Nabati verse.
Q: Finally, is there anything you would like to say or ask?
Sheikh Mohammed: Yes... why doesn't Al Khaleej dedicate a weekly page to Nabati poetry?
Tuesday, December 10, 2002