When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra


While many—if not most—of the poems in this collection do not fall strictly within the parameters of a specific genre, other poems were conceived with a clear model in mind and thus adhere to the same structural, thematic, and performance parameters. Such poems may be referred to by a specific categorical name; these poems may be conceived of and described as belonging to a poetic genre. Whereas poetic genres are often conceived of as the smallest integral unit of the poetic tradition by the Mahra and non-Mahri observers, genres are nothing more than a frequently visited intersection between the four parameters of poetic composition. They are, in other words, preprogrammed settings on the poet’s radio dial. Poems that are not affiliated with a genre encompass any number of possible parametric combinations and poets who eschew the preset combinations have a great deal of freedom in following their poetic whims.    

As suggested above, genre-affiliated poems are the general domain of al-Mahra’s better-established poets and social notables because composing a poem modeled on a common template will invite comparison with the finest poetic specimens still remembered and circulated in al-Mahra. Poems affiliated with a specific genre are embedded within a matrix of associated poems; inserting oneself into a well-established tradition requires a great deal of confidence. In contrast, to compose a poem that is not affiliated with a specific genre is to adopt a more modest course; poems that are not genre affiliated span the range of poetic quality from its finest specimens to its most humble. In short, the poet’s own sense of his or her poetic capacity and social stature may play a role in determining whether a poem will be composed at a parametric intersection occupied by a commonly accepted genre.

In summary, one may categorize poetry in the Mahri language into one of two conceptual domains: genre marked and genre unmarked.


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