When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Find Your Poem

Imagine you are a poet possessing neither pen nor paper, and you have never seen your native language written down. You’ve never studied poetry in your native language by reading it, but you’ve heard it plenty and may have committed some poems to memory after asking to hear them recited again and again. After all, poetry is widely composed and recited in your language; it is a much beloved feature of daily life. In consequence, there exists a conceptual warehouse of preprogrammed phrases, expressions, themes, and poetic templates ready to go for poets from all walks of life and with varying degrees of skill.

Despite the prevalence of poetry in your society, your folk limit their conversations about poetry to specific poems and songs: those they like and those that move them. There is no communal vocabulary to talk about poetry in the abstract other than a few words to describe certain prescribed types of poem recited at formal occasions. However, the majority of poems are not composed for these occasions. Most people lack the appropriate traits—verbal dexterity, love of tradition, and self-confidence—that enable public performance at weddings or other social gatherings. Their poems may be more modest in scope and circulation.

How will you, a Mahri-language speaker, proceed from inspiration to the recitation of a completed poem? What factors will you weigh in determining the route your creative impulse will take through the warehouse of premade themes and poetic templates?

Without the guidance of an articulated body of knowledge, how do you think about your specific expressive needs and the dictates of the poetic tradition?

In short, how will your poem come together when the melodies gather?

What follows is an attempt to place you in the shoes of a Mahri poet by offering you the decisions she or he could take toward the composition of a poem. Answer the “yes” or “no” questions as the spirit takes you; every route leads to a collection of previously composed Mahri-language poems that respond to the poetic persona and occasion that you’ve determined. In doing so, you can live the thought process undertaken by Mahri poets, professionals and amateurs alike. 

Begin Your Adventure

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