Six sharp-tongued, witty spoken-word artists from both the western world and Egypt stood side by side on Thursday at the Cairo Opera House’s lawn area, for one off-kilter poetry recital.
Titled “Poetry Jam, the event – organized by Goethe Institute in Egypt, the Swiss Embassy and the Austrian Cultural Forum – aimed to initiate a dialogue between the two parties through an alternative, creative medium.
While most Egyptian poets primarily focus on human relationships and love, others utilize it to voice their opinions on pressing political and social issues.
“The government doesn’t care about resistance anymore because words don’t mean anything to them anymore and they end up doing what they want, said Mido Zoheir, one of the evening’s performers. “But I see it differently and want to prove that my words can change to emotion and later this emotion can change to action, added Zohier, whose work as a songwriter has been used by several notable groups, including Wust El-Balad.
The six poets were paired into three groups of Egyptians and non-Egyptians. While touring for a week in Sohag in Upper Egypt, Alexandria and Cairo, they spent several days translating each other’s pieces from German into Arabic and vice versa.
“They spent hours with each other re-writing German pieces into ameya (colloquial Arabic), which was better than the literal translation because it gave it more depth and more meaning, said Frida Koppe, one of the event’s organizers. “They were able to use Egyptian symbols and metaphors in the translation so that audiences can relate and understand it.
In addition, the poets employed innovative methods for their recitals. They incorporated tabla (oriental drum) and singing in their performances, increasing the emotional wallop.
Originally known as “Gedicht Marmelade (poetry marmalade) in Austrian-German, it’s now better known as poetry slam (or she’r al-sadm in Arabic). The term was first coined in the US in the 1980s when people wanted poetry to become more alive and liberate expression from its paper and pen confinement.
In the 1990s, the wave hit Europe, initially churning out 500 slammers, who used satirical lyrics, humor and catchy tones to reach out to larger audiences. While slam poetry developed into a solid form of artistic expression in most European countries like the UK and Belgium, the slam scene prospered the most in German-speaking nations, Koppe explained.
Swiss poet, Christian Ütz, 46, was the oldest poet in the group and the only one to employ explicit animated body language along with a rasping pitch for his recital.
“Poetry isn’t about pretty words anymore, Ütz said. “You must reflect its energy with body language and gestures, improvisation and spontaneity. Having written poetry for over 20 years, Ütz asserts that there is no “correct formula to write a rhyme. Poetry writing is characterized by an element of unpredictability; while some take half a day to finish, others can last several months.
Poetry Jam is a relatively new concept in Egypt; it was introduced last year with the first annual session. Zoheir is keen for this new vehicle to find a proper place in Egyptian culture. “With poetry comes freedom and emancipation, you are able to say it how you wrote it, he said.
Franziska Holzheimer, the German poet and opening performer of the show, was pleased with the Cairene audience. “In Sohag there were too many distractions and Alexandrians didn’t react at all, but here people were with us from the first moment, they were connected.
Holzheimer, who gave one of the most popular performances of the evening, left a memorable impression on the audience. “At the beginning of the event she said if we don’t understand something, try to feel it, 22-year-old audience member, Rana Saad, said. “She said it perfectly and I really felt what I didn’t understand.
One of the audience members was a senior gentleman, Adel Sayed, a computer scientist who attended the first jam in 2009, which he preferred. While he favored the German pieces by Austrian poets Holzheimer and Jasmin Hafedh, whom he regarded as honest and genuine, Sayed was somewhat disappointed with the thin content offered by some participants.
“Poets should have more experience. The first jam session was new and different and much better.
Contrary to what Zoheir hopes though, Sayed doesn’t believe poetry jams will spread in Egypt, because “the content does not speak to Egyptian society.
“If they want to be successful, he added, “the poems will have to be adjusted in order to speak to our emotional public.