When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra


Poems that take a specific event or celebration as their inspiration are classified as occasional poems. Such poems are generally aimed at a public audience and thus assume a degree of self-confidence on the part of the poet as both an artist and a public figure. Poems marked as occasional have varying degrees of “occasionally”; some verge on the sentimental in the same way that many sentimental poems verge on the the occasional.

Poems appertaining to certain marked genres such the tribal historical ode (ōdī we-krēm krēm) and dueling couplets (reǧzīt) are unambiguously occasional, because poems belonging to these genres articulate a collective response to a specific act (a murder, theft, boundary dispute, etc.). Moreover, poems that serve a ceremonial role in public celebrations (such as weddings, religious festivals, tribal assemblies, etc.) are classified as occasional since their relevance and function are tied to a specific set of circumstances even if the poetic lines themselves do not make direct reference to them (such as collective reǧzīt). As a rule, poems that are composed to articulate a collective response to an incident or ceremony will eschew sentimental content; the collective pose adopted by the poet is incompatible with personal reflection.

Poems in which the poet does not assume the role of spokesperson for broader social unit—that is, poems that deal with a specific incident from an individual standpoint—may take on a sentimental hue. This is the case for most of the poems in this collection that were classified by my Mahri consultants as occasional poems. Thus, a poem conceived as a response to a specific event will be understood as an occasional poem even if it provokes sentimental reflection further on in the compositional process.

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