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AMMAN — “From now on, my voice will be heard, and I start with this — my first spoken word.” The assertion comes from Sanaa Asim, concluding a poem about her experience with discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and religion.
Asim is one of 20 artists participating in the Amman Poetry Slam — a monthly open mic event aiming to promote the creation and performance of poetry.
The November edition of the slam has drawn a full house, leaving the audience hard-pressed to find seats at the Books@Café venue.
Although Asim is a first-time performer, she is adamant that she will be back. “This is a place where I can express myself and connect with like-minded people. It feels like a safe space," she told The Jordan Times.
“I’m in awe that you are all here, not for a movie or a concert, but because of poetry," organiser Dalia Shurman tells the audience.
As a literature-major who has written poetry all her life, Shurman’s efforts to create a community for spoken word poets in Amman were driven by a longing for somewhere to feel at home. “I felt like I didn’t have a place where I belonged. So, I decided to make one," she told The Jordan Times.
The result was the Amman Writing Club, a steadily growing collective, connecting local writers.
To expand the creative playing-field and provide a public platform for the writers to express themselves, the collective went on to establish Amman’s first regular poetry slam. “It is an open, safe space for different voices to be heard. A place where people gather to appreciate and support free artistic expression. It turns out Amman has a huge demand for these kinds of events. Every time there are new voices participating,” Shurman explained.
One of the regulars at the poetry slam is Laith Akuz, who comes "for the atmosphere of freedom". “The event allows you to express yourself freely without judgement. This is not very common in our community," he stated.
As an established artist with experience both from the US and the Middle East, Ali Jawad Ani agrees: “This setting is really unique. It allows you to be judged based on the substance of your words, not based on whom they might offend.” Ani has a strong belief in the role of such events in helping to break down cultural and social barriers.
The Poetry Slam is already breaking down barriers of the geographic kind, with sister-communities in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, feeding Shurman's ambition "to span across all of the MENA-region”.