It’s not often that a poet attains international celebrity of the sort enjoyed by “Britain’s Got Talent” songstress Susan Boyle. Even less often is it that this a poet who writes and performs in Arabic.
Of course, Hissa Hilal’s “Million’s Poet”-sparked celebrity attaches less to her art and more to the idea of her as an Arab woman standing up against a corrupt (coincidentally Muslim!) male regime. Most stories have quoted little from her poetry; I have read nothing about her ideas about the nabati poetic form.
FoxNews, for instance, has focused not on her art, but on the news organization’s dubious claim that she had sparked “outrage among religious conservatives in the Middle East.” BBC interviews her briefly, but it feels like a handshake-on-the-street interview, one that merely reiterates her belief in the “global village.” The Examiner piece talks about her courage, but then refers to her as “the little woman dressed in black.”
The two most interesting pieces about Hilal are, not surprisingly, in The National, which takes time to get to know the Saudi poet. One article in The National talks about another anti-regime poet, Anna Akhmatova, and the other discusses Hilal’s past, and how she came to poetry.
Only the Angry Arab News Service touched on whether or not Hilal’s poetry was any good (he decided it was not). Elsewhere, the poem that sent Hilal into the Million’s Poet finals has been repeated without analysis of its literary worth.
Much of the reportage in the U.S. press, and beyond, insists on making clear note of Hilal’s dress. She is not just a Saudi poet (or poetess), but a “burka-clad” poet who’s “beneath a black niqab.” If you expected NPR to be any better, they’re not.
And my favorite headline is one from The Sun that defies understanding: “Mum braves TV burka backlash.”
The next episode of Million’s Poet—the final round–-is set to air April 7.