March 12, 2008

If American Idol Was For Poetry

I read an article on The Times of London website recently that describes an Arab TV show called Millions's Poet that looks like American Idol (or the British Pop Idol show), but the singing is replaced by poetry.

What do you think the ratings for a Poetry Idol show would be in the United States?

It has the lights and video screens and look of our shows but many differences:

  • the studio audience is segregated according to sex
  • the judges hold doctorates
  • the hostess wears a abaya (though it might be pink)
  • most contestants come from poor Beduin villages where the ancient art of Nabati poetry exists but is disappearing
  • the winner gets one million dirhams (about £140,000 or $280,000)
If you want to run your own version, here's some information to get started.

Nabati poetry is a form similar to an ode and dates back to 4th-century Arabia. That was a time when poets were revered as messengers inspired by God and their poetry added to the pride of their tribal group.

Get five judges with doctorates (I'm not sure literature degrees are required though). Give them a scoring rubric for novel language, difficulty in rhyme, and passion.

Round one: contestants recite free verse. Round two: judges give a subject for inspiration. (Feel free to use the show's subjects - camels, coffee, respect for parents - or select your own.

No harsh Simon-styled critiques. Think poetry workshop. Praise what you can. Be kind. On the show they like to end each comment “God bless you”.

If there's something funny in all this to me, it's not the show, but only that such a show wouldn't even make it on the air on C-SPAN in the USA. Poetry and poets just don't get that kind of respect/attention. If any version could get decent cable ratings it would have to be total performance poetry, uncensored, raw and probably featuring semi-nudity.

The qasida poetic form with its 60-100 lines and end rhyme may be a bit much as a prompt for the audience, but....

Continue your studies...

"Native Bedouin poetry, known as nabati, is extremely popular. It has similarities to the classical qasidah, or ode, of which the central and eastern regions of the country are the traditional birthplace. Many of the great masters of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry dwelt in what is now Saudi Arabia, and the two styles, qasidah and nabati, differ largely in the former's use of Classical Arabic as a medium. Nabati poetry is composed in the vernacular and has a strong musical quality."

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