How To Write A Wonderful Arabic Poem

letters watercolor

*Dedicated to… oh Lord, there’s so many people I dedicate this to. I’m afraid I’m gonna leave someone out… look, you know who you are! 

۞

If you are coming here for tips on how to write extravagant Arabic poetry, sorry to get your hopes up. I am actually the one in dire need of this. 

I am writing this blog post as a reminder of what I had promised myself to do, and for the past 2 months, have not even begun. I did not have many New Year resolutions this year, particularly because I want to be renewing my intentions every day– but I did create for myself one challenge for 2013– namely, to write a decent Arabic poem. (And I’m not talking about one of those you-rock-my-world poems that I write for my mom once a while and she cherishes them despite the plentiful problematic errors in there– I’m talking depth and eloquence that even an authentic Arabic speaker can appreciate.)

Arabic is my first language. I can read, speak and write in it, but I don’t get creative with it… which is a shame because there’s something exquisitely divine about the language I have yet to hear in any other. I experiment with the letters in art– I have lately been trying to include Arabic letters in my paintings and I try to do my own (oversimplified but original) attempts at calligraphy whenever I can. But this is visual; I have never played with the words with the intention of having them read. There’s a harmony and purity of the Arabic language that simply flows like music to the ears and, if words can be tasted, honey to the tongue when they are recited. Yet I don’t play with such treasured words, or dive deep into the ocean they create, because let’s be honest– I don’t have experience in Arabic writing besides  jotting down brief notes at an Islamic lecture, and maybe an email here and there to my relatives. You see, I’d much rather stick in my comfort bubble of the English language, something I find intriguing but not necessarily challenging, than feel like the fool I know I am in my own native one.

Yet I don’t want it to be that way.

  • For an English poem to make an impact on me, it needs to rhyme, to have rhythm, to be meaningful in content.
  • But in Arabic, it just sounds so good even before you understand it all!

And once you do, you marvel at how such simple concepts can sound so exquisite in Arabic.

So in December 2012, I thought of a plan: a plan to execute in 2013. A plan that is quite simple to follow, and yet I haven’t begun carrying it through yet. Maybe if I write the plan here, I’ll feel ashamed of myself and get started on it already…

STEP-By-STEP:

How to Write A Wonderful Poem In Arabic (or any other language!)

and far away
1) Ask friends/ cousins to send you recommendations of very nice poems in Arabic. Ask people who you think have good taste, so that you don’t discriminate and filter– just copy paste them all into a nice neat Google doc. Compile at least 10 poems. (CHECK!)

2) Print the document out and create it into a booklet. (1 side for 1 poem, the other side blank) (CHECK!)

3) Commit a portion of every day, even if twenty minutes, to doing the following:
-Flip to a poem. Make sure you have an Arabic-English dictionary nearby for the harder words.
-Every time you come across a word you’re unsure of (there will be lots especially if you’re reading older poetry), write it down on the blank side of the page, look it up, and write down the translation. Read the verse again until it makes perfect sense.
-Do this for every verse.
*The goal isn’t to read and master an entire book of poetry a day, it is simply to read Arabic in a different context than the one you’re familiar in, and to still understand it. Quality over quantity.

4) Make a note of what you like about the poems you like (You don’t have to love them all). But for the ones you do… What was it that mesmerized you? The style, the tone, the words, the topic? Reflect on them, keep these all in mind, they will come in handy.

5) Finally, perhaps two months of this consistency, when you can read something without much difficulty, think of a topic that’s on your mind, and write a very rough draft of it in Arabic. Try your best, when possible, to use the words you had to once upon a time look up because they were alien to you. Keep #4 in mind as you explore a style that is unique to you, don’t feel constrained by boundaries that only exist in your head.

6) Get a trusted one to read it over (or a group of sincere individuals). It can be anyone– basically, someone that won’t think you’re completely messed up because your grammar/spelling is horrendous. 🙂

7) Do a neat copy of the poem after editing. Post it up (if you think it’s worth sharing).

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Et voila, you have become an Arabic poet!

۞

*As a form of self-congratulation, share it on a very special day of the year, one you will always remember. (April.6 works as an ideal date in my case.)

(Though I seriously doubt I’ll have anything worthy to share before 2040 or something. But hey– A girl can dream, right?)

🙂

–A.S.

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3 comments on “How To Write A Wonderful Arabic Poem

  1. I have some amazing references if you like!
    I mentioned one before ; the literary work of 1001 nights was what kindled the love for Arabic in me, I was mesmerized by the style of writing (its completely written in either prose or poetry ! ) and the profound wisdom behind the stories until one morning I found myself pouring out words of prose of my own!

    But foremost, the Qur’an was the gateway to my infatuation with Arabic.

    Also, I would suggest NOT finding the definition of words using an English-Arabic dictionary ; instead use a mo3jam , an Arabic dictionary. This is the one I use (which is a gem): http://www.baheth.info/index.jsp
    You might find it difficult to use, since sometimes you’ll need to find out what the explanation actually means (they’re old mo3jams) but this was a very good way for me to learn new Arabic words and concepts, especially the root meanings.

    For more straightforward translations/definitions, I advise you to use this site, as it provides accurate synonyms in Arabic AND English:
    http://www.almaany.com/

    I hope these references help you and I expect to see a mind-blowing Arabic poem soon inshaAllah 🙂

  2. Wow!

    To be honest, the dictionaries were sort of a pain in the neck. (Example: If they couldn’t translate a word, they basically just re-wrote it in English letters) So a mo3jam is probably gonna be more useful indeed!

    I’ll be using these references for sure inshaAllah. Thanks so much– I really really appreciate it! 😀

  3. Pingback: نعومة بين يديه | mindyummy

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