poMotion poetry

Hissa Hilal’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ is heard across the sea

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Hissa Hilal took an unprecedented, third place in"Million's Poet" competiton She stands here with the other finalists, including Nasser al-Ajami who took first place and runner up, Falah al-Mowraqi

Hissa Hilal did much more than take third place in a poetry competition, she blew through a previously indelible line in the sand.

Hilal was out ranked by her Kuwaiti male counterparts, Nasser al-Ajami who took first place in the Million’s Poet competition last week followed by runner up, Falah al-Mowraqi.  The Saudi poetess took third place, the furthest a woman has progressed in the poetry competition, now in its fourth year.

Hilal criticized religious extremism in her poem, “The Chaos of Fatwas” (translated here by blogger-editor, Nina Alvarez) which she read in the second round of competition.  In doing so, Hilal gained million’s of fans in the blogosphere.  She also received threats on her life.

Most of the acclaim that celebrated this brave woman’s journey was spurred from reports in the news and social media, like this podast on NPR’s Morning Edition or the following video from ABC news:


Hilal’s 15 minutes of fame might seem to have passed as evidenced in the lack of public support for Hilal in the final round.  The National reported that, “The judges scored her highest in every round, including the final, where she earned 28 out of 30 possible points. Mr. Al Ajami won by taking twice as much of the public vote as Mrs. Hilal.”

Though public opinion was seemingly swayed by her international celebrity-or the fact that she’s a woman- for Hilal, this could be a catapult that would hoist her poetry and the legacy she leaves other female Saudi poets onto a more even playing field.

From behind the veil of her peace protest, Ms. Hilal has managed to pull off a victory for Arabian women.  But, as is the case in any rise to fame, she didn’t get there alone.

Aydah al-Aarawi al-Jahani became the first woman to make it to the second round of the competition reported the Middle East Online website in 2009.  While, at around the same time, arabianBusiness.com confirmed the poetess refused to give into tribal and familial pressures and continued to compete with the full support of her husband who attended every competition.  Ms. Al-Jahani placed fourth in the competition last year reported The National.

In addition to Al-Jahani’s 2009 successes, Hilal shared stage with  two other female poets this year, both from Jordan:  Roba Al Douekat and Halima Abadi.  Al Douekat, 22, told The National she was proud that Mrs Hilal had made it to the finale. “If Hissa wins, that would be a source of pride for all of us women,” she said before the final round of competition began.   She was right.

Ms. Hilal finished third in the “Poet of Millions” and won Dh3million (US$816,760) reported The National last week.  That is a lot of dirham.  That money will come in very handy in the caring for four children, one of whom,  ABC news reports, is autistic and does not speak.

At the end of the day, when all the lights go down and the Niqāb comes off, it is my hope that Hissa Hilal and all of the creative feminine forces of  the Middle East will wear equality as a dress and leave it uncovered for the whole world to see.

Posted by Sue Zalokar
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Written by lickmypoetry

April 12, 2010 at 11:20 pm

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