Arts, Culture & Media

One show in the United Arab Emirates is turning poets into millionaires

One poet in the United Arab Emirates got a whole lot richer last week. He won the prize of $1.2 million competing in the popular TV talent show called "Million's Poet."

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The show takes place in Abu Dhabi, and combines a traditional form of poetry called 'Nabati' with the glitz and glamour of a reality TV talent show.

There are the lights, cameras and the spectators. Contestants read their poems, which should not be longer than 15 lines for a panel of four judges as well as the audience.

"The judges vote on the poetry, presentation and the body language," says BBC Arabic's Dina Demrdash.

According to Demrdash, it's not only the judges who get to vote for the winner. The audience, both in the studio and at home can vote too (at home you vote via text messages).

Nabati, Demrdash says, is a Bedouin form of poetry, driving all of its imagery from their culture and the environment there.

"You will hear a lot about deserts, palm trees, a lot of nationalistic lines," she says.

Most of the contestants, so far, have been men, but there was one female contestant who took the third place in 2010.

Hissa Hilal was the first woman to reach the program's final and her poem raised some eyebrows.

"Her poems were criticizing her own country and the Fatwas (religious edicts) issued by scholars," says Demrdash. "But, although she came third, she became a winner in another way."

Since then, Hilal has become a famous face in all cultural events across the Arab world. She has published two books so far and will soon publish a third.

The latest season of "Million's Poet" began back in February, with a show airing each week since.

Participants were from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Qatar and this year's winner was 27-year-old Saif al-Mansuri from the United Arab Emirates.

It was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi who first came up with the idea of the poetry show. His plan was to promote poetry and culture in the countries in the Gulf region.

It was a big hit and that's why it's been going strong on for six seasons.

"Poetry remains a very popular tool of expression for Arabs," says Demrdash, who is from Egypt herself. "It has always been part of our history and it remains a very important part of our culture."

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