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Nearly 1500 people gathered at Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night and hundreds of thousands more turned on the Baynounah and Al Emarat TV channels at 10 pm to watch the first episode of Prince of Poets 2017.

Organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee, Prince of Poets was launched in 2007, now taking place once every two years. It awards poetry composed in classical Arabic language, the top winner receiving AED 1 million, then AED 500,000 for second place and AED 300,000 for the third.

February 21st was a night of “outstanding quality”, as many in the audience described it, their statement supported by the long applauses and cheers of the four poets who battled it out, in heartfelt words of beauty, in the first round of the two months show.

Alla Gatrawi (Palestine), Hassan Amer (Egypt), Latifa Hasani (Algeria) and Nasser Al Ghasani (Oman) took the stage, one by one, reciting their own written classical Arabic poem in front of the three judges of the show – Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Dr. Salah Fadhl and Dr. Abdul Malek Mortadh. Their poems of love, national belonging, social issues were reviewed live, by the three judges, both from technical composition point of view and esthetic merits.

“When judging a poem, the most important aspect for me is adding more values, such as the challenges the Arab world faces today in the fields of politics, social, economic and cultural. Also, I strongly encourage the contestants to re-read the texts of literary esthetics and re-read the classics, the tradition of Arabic poetry writing from the strong talent, which I find inspires more attractive verses,” said Dr. Ali bin Tamim.

“The main difference of classical Arabic today compared to the old days is in the approach and the perspective. The form is the same, and so is the rhythm, but the language used is different,” he added.

The rhymed or measured Arabic poetry falls within fifteen different meters collected and explained by Khalil Al Farahidi, one of the earliest Arab lexicographers and philologists. Later on, his student, Al Akhfash, added one more meter to make them sixteen. These rhythmical poetry meters are known in Arabic as "seas" (buḥūr).

The measuring unit of seas is known as "taf‘īlah", and every sea contains a certain number of taf'ilah, which the poet has to observe in every verse (bayt) of the poem. The measuring procedure of a poem is very rigorous. Sometimes adding or removing a consonant or a vowel can shift the bayt from one meter to another. Also, in rhymed poetry, every bayt has to end with the same rhyme (qāfiyah) throughout the poem.

Poetry is the earliest form of Arabic literature, the first known scripts dating back to the sixth century, yet, in oral form, it is much older.

“Over more than 15 centuries poetry has palpably surpassed a simple system of words to grow into a masterpiece of the many masterpieces of the Arab eloquence. As a form of expression, poetry has, in fact, turned into a bright manifestation of the perceptive expression and the amazing Arabic language,” said Sultan Al Amimi, Director of the Poetry Academy at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.

Eloquent is how many of the verses recited on Al Raha Beach Theatre stage on Tuesday night were described. The four poets did not only had to recite their own poems in front of the judges and the audience, but they also had to perform it, to pour out their passion through their rhyming words.

Only three of the poets will be able to move on to the next stage of the competition. The judges’ favourite was already announced at the end of the show on Tuesday night. With a 24% score, Egypt’s Hassan Amer has moved on to the final 15 contestants. At the start of the next episode, on February 28th, the other two will be announced, based on the viewers votes, combined with the judges’ votes.

During the first five episodes, four poets will compete in each one, but only three will move on to the next stage of the competition, when the final 20 will become final 15.

“From thousands of applicants, 20 finalists were selected for the Prince of Poets live show. For the first time in the history of the competition, we are having 10 women and 10 men participating in the programme. This will make the programme stronger, as they will challenge each other. We expect a more fierce battle of words this year. As a result, there will be more poetic surprises, attracting bigger audience at Al Raha Beach Theatre and more viewers at home”, mentioned Dr. Ali bin Tamim.