The Word Project: Egypt’s platform for poetry
“My goal is to get young writers in Egypt published, because you need to see your by-line somewhere, and if your story is good and authentic it will get there,” says founderBy Nayera Yasser
Sitting in her room writing poetry and letting it all out, she pours her heart out on paper, yet no one cares or even attempts to read her rhymes and stories. Egypt, the country that used to support and idolise poets, no longer offers them a platform or a channel.
Local voluntary project, The Word Project, joined all those with a deep love for words under one roof for their third poetry slam last weekend in Zamalek’s “Albet Alwan”, a cultural hub that could be translated to “A Box of Colours”.
“This time we have more poets, we have a different venue. Also this time we have a very well known band closing for us,” said Haidy Zakaria, poet and founder of The Word Project. “Additionally we have a very wide variation of ages and styles which we did not have before.”
The night included 22 different poets who choose words to express their deepest thoughts, fears and hopes. The performances varied between Arabic and English, however the later did dominate most of the poems.
Among the talents, two school students amazed the crowd with their ability to stand up and speak their minds so vividly. “I performed at the German School a couple of months back, in the name of The Word Project, and then they were very interested so they contacted me. Their school appreciates art so it encouraged them to come,” said Zakaria.
While one of them talked about her favourite character from the famous book “The Wizard of Oz”, another promising talent tackled a much more sensitive topic.
The German school student discussed the eternal body-image topic. Nonetheless, the 14-year-old decided to represent the other side of the coin. Rather than defending the so-called over weight, she talked about how her much criticised “skinny legs”, which she could not be more proud of, always helped her stand tall.
The topics spread to all aspects of life. One of the poets decided to introduce a new form of film reviews, with the help of poetry. Through his poem “La Dolce Vita”, referring to how an Italian film produced in 1960 became a gospel of life. The review went through every detail from the costumes to the film’s sole message.
Another talent took us to what appeared to be a bitter love poem about losing someone dear. However, the last verse was nothing but surprising as it explained the poet’s metaphor of describing cigarettes as deadly brides taking away our loved ones.
Dena El-Shaba, one of the night’s local talents, shared not only her poetry but also performed as one of the event’s musical breaks. Shaba first came on stage with her poem “Because I am A Woman”, which narrated the struggles women around the world face whilst walking down the streets.
As for her musical performance, Shaba sang two covers plus an original song that she wrote about the Palestinian struggle during one of the attacks on Gaza.
“Happy Birthday to Me” was yet another moving poem by Mai Mostafa about the loss of her father amid her mother’s notable depression.
“This is my second time at The Word Project, because I really love these events. I do not just love reciting poetry; I also love listening to it. I have participated with another initiative yet I find the word project more consistent and organised,” said Mostafa.
As for the closing number Kayan Band, a local rock band that chooses to describe itself as authentic Arab rock, performed a number of their songs to create the perfect ending to the night.
The Word Project started with as an idea in 2013 due to Zakaria’s deep passion for poetry. “Two things I like spoken word poetry and I tried to apply to literary journals to get published and I found none! So I thought I would start one,” said Zakaria.
The project which has already built a fair reputation after three successful slams is expected to progress to the next phase with a specialised online magazine.
“I started the slams in February 2014 and actually our website just got up, and it is going to be an online literal journal mainly for young Egyptian writers in both Arabic and English,” said Zakaria.
After establishing the website a couple of days prior to the event, Zakaria will soon start calling for editors, writers and submissions. However, being a non-profit project, everything will be internship and volunteer based.
“My goal is to get young writers in Egypt published because you need to see your by-line somewhere, and if your story is good and authentic it will get there,” concluded Zakaria.
As for her future plans, Zakaria wishes to reach everyone in Egypt with her artistic project.
“I would love to take my slams to a bigger stage. The ultimate goal is to get people around Egypt to start making art, to start writing again. For The Word Project to evolve from being an underground thing and encourage those who are scared. So basically my dream is to get the slams on stage and the literal journal on paper,” said Zakaria.