‘Maqsouda’ podcast aims to make Arabic poetry less intimidating
Arabic poetry can seem intimidating. It is embedded in our collective consciousness that Arabic poetry, traditionally written and recited in classical Arabic, belongs on the page or performed in a literary saloon from some distant, forgotten era.
But times have changed. Maqsouda is a podcast about Arabic poetry created and hosted by Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck and Palestinian spoken word poet Farah Chamma.
The premise of the podcast is simple: Two friends engaging in a conversation about Arabic poetry.
Hashem Beck is an awardwinning poet whose third poetry collection “O” will be published by Penguin Books in 2022. Chamma, a poet and performer, has gained widespread recognition for her spoken-word work.
Produced by the Arabic podcasting platform Sowt, Maqsouda comprises two types of episodes: One where Hashem Beck and Chamma informally discuss a poem, and another where one of the hosts — or sometimes the poet themself — recites some poetry.
“What brought me and Zeina together to work on Maqsouda was this ‘wall’ in Arabic poetry,” Chamma said. “It stands in our personal writing and in our fears of making mistakes in Arabic. We didn’t want this. So, discussing Arabic poetry in this style is intentional. This labor, Maqsouda, is to change that idea, even in myself.”
The “wall” is a familiar concept for many Arabic speakers. Whether formally educated in Arabic or not, the practice of writing and engaging with Arabic in its classical form is riddled with daunting linguistic and grammatical rules.
“There is a misconception that Arabic poetry has to be in this high language and not in our day-to-day language,” Hashem Beck added. “That’s because of the diglossia
(the use of two versions of the same language) we have because of both classic Arabic and colloquial Arabic. It’s a contradictory space.”
Changing perceptions on how to engage with Arabic also goes hand in hand with shedding light on poets from across the region.
We’d like to feature as many women as men,” Hashem Beck said. “We want to learn and diversify.”