Spoken-word Poet Afra Atiq: Placing the Individual at the Heart of Her Commentary

Emirati spoken-word poet Afra Atiq (@a_afra) was born in Dubai and is one of an emerging group of Emirati spoken-word poets. Atiq has said she first stumbled across spoken-word poetry during a visit to Boston in 2009, and since has been performing on stage. Atiq spoke with ArabLit contributor Mariam al-Doseri:

By Mariam F. Al-Doseri

Photo from the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Photo from the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Emirati spoken-word poet Afra Atiq contains multitudes: She’s the middle child who carries the cultural heritage of a pearl diver, an Osage, and Japanese haikus. The child of a Japanese-American mother and an Emirati father, Atiq is aware of the way those cultures, narratives, and story-tellers shaped the artist she is now.

Her awareness is coupled with a deep sense of responsibility to create: “It is the only thing louder than destruction,” she said, quoting Andrea Gibson, her favorite Spoken Word artist. “Iif we do not tell our stories, someone else would tell it and not necessarily accurately,” Atiq added.

I asked Atiq to place Spoken Word within the Arabic literary context, having noticed that she code-switches in her performances, shifting between Arabic and English. She said she thinks Spoken Word has always been a part of the Arabic literary scene. This is not the Spoken Word loaded with American connotations, but a form of literary expression that accounts for the two intrinsic features of Spoken Word: poetry, as performed before an audience.

She notes the richness of the Arabic poetic heritage with pride, and the desire to excel in Arabic as she does in English seems to fill her with healthy artistic doubt. She’s says she’s committed herself to infusing more Arabic into her writing and performances.

In her poetry, Atiq draws from personal experience addressing loss — the loss of her grandparents, for instance, is a recurring theme in her work. She also deals with bullying, cancer, and multiculturalism, amongst other issues. She believes the performer’s ability to be vulnerable on the stage, allowing audiences to identify and relate with these intimate, and often hidden stories, is just as important as addressing the “big” issues. She said that connection, is “better than any standing ovation” a performer might receive.

She doesn’t shy away from addressing the big issues, she said, but she wants to place the individual at the heart of her social commentary. That is her calling, her motivation, and her duty.

Spoken Word, according to Afra, is intuitive: She just knows what to stress and when to stress, when to speed up and when to pause. But this also comes with an intimate knowledge of one’s poetry, and an understanding of what and how to engage the audience.  It is not enough to incorporate and play around with other forms of art, to narrate powerful stories. It’s also paramount that she is authentic: true to herself and her audience,

Simply put, Atiq tells me that SW Poetry “is meant to be seen, heard and experienced rather than read,” and she LOVES (she said love too many times) the form, as ewll as the pressure, the responsibility and the opportunities. She especially loves representing the country.  She passionately and emphatically loves it.


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