The winners of the Barjeel Poetry Prize 2020, the first edition, were announced on December 12, 2020.
The Barjeel Poetry Prize is an international competition that invites poets around the world to respond to twenty works of Arab art from the 20th century organised by the UAE-based Barjeel Art Foundation.
The inaugural edition was judged by a panel of Naomi Shihab Nye, Hala Alyan, Raymond Antrobus, Tishani Doshi, Asmaa’ Azaizah, and Golan Haji. This panel has announced the winners of the prizes in the categories of Arabic, English Arab Heritage, and English International for both adults and teens.
The winners in the three categories are:
- Adult: Islam Abdul Shahid Hanish (Arabic)
Islam Abdul Shahid Hanish is an Egyptian poet who works in the fields of geology and voiceovers. Judge Hala Alyan said, of the winning poem: “I found “Chanson Mystique” to be a gorgeously crafted piece, breathlessly paced and evoking the chaotic beauty of Suha Shoman’s painting. The poet does a remarkable job of dialoguing with the art, evoking Midwestern thunderstorms and “cherry juice/in Jerusalem.” In the end, this is–above all else–a praise poem, as the speaker entreaties us to remember, “Here sits holiness of sorts,/here sits coral, blood & cherry, here scatters the stars/like my uncle scatters saplings.”
- Youth: Batool Abu Akleen (Arabic)
English, Arab Heritage
- Adult: Emily Khilfeh
Emily Khilfeh (she/her) is a Palestinian-American writer from Seattle, USA. She is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a former fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets. Her poetry appears in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Pinwheel Journal, Glass: a Journal of Poetry, and the 2018 and 2019 Ghassan Kanafani Anthology.
- Teen: Nour Salama (English, Arab Heritage)
Nour Salama is a creative and aspiring young writer who enjoys walks under the moonlight, embroidery, making art, and writing poetry while watching the sunrise.
Judge Naomi Shihab-Nye said, “Poetry has a very particular relationship with the seen and unseen, the visible and invisible worlds. This piece of art and this poem as well examine the mysteries of presence and absence – honoring lives in exile, memories gone missing, erased villages, disappeared children, all the terrible realities which have unfortunately been a legacy for Palestinian (and Syrian, and Iraqi, on and on) precious people. I was profoundly moved by the spare lines and the jagged occasional (but not too awkward) rhyming. Lines like “Three Palestinian boys/Were none by noon” were searing in their understatement, yet huge implication. When the speaker says the missing Palestinian boy is himself, the poem really comes in for a landing. This is a playful poet, even when discussing a terribly somber subject. Humanity’s open heart is turning over terrible realities – what we humans can do to one another. Somehow the lightness of touch intensifies the pain.”
- Adult: Charlotte Eichler
Charlotte Eichler lives and works in West Yorkshire, UK. Her poems have appeared in magazines including PN Review, The Rialto and Stand. A selection of her work is forthcoming in Carcanet’s New Poetries VIII anthology and her debut pamphlet, Their Lunar Language, was published by Valley Press in 2018.
Judge Tishani Doshi, who selected the work, called it both an “unfurling and a containment.” She said, “The assurance with which the poem moves and shifts registers impressed me. There’s a mirroring aspect throughout, in the body the poem describes, as well as the language used to describe that body. The poet seems intent on showing us the constraints – whether it’s the “bars of my ribs” or “the town’s violet limits,” but is also contrasting these with a kind of emancipation, an opening – “blue shimmers through us.” There is insistence in this poem, of being alive, of giving life. The last stanza and that final image of the storks clacking beaks – the “hard kind of love in dirty nests,” devastated me. This is the voice of a poet who understands both beauty and restraint, using empty space in the poem not just to offer breath, but to hint at unspoken things.”
- Teen: Olajuwon-Alhaytham Abdullah Adedokun
Olajuwon-Alhaytham Abdullah Adedokun lives in Lagos, Nigeria and writes about home and broken people.
Judge Raymond Antrobus said of the winning poem, ““the fastest way to set yourself on fire / is by lighting your home” begins of this striking poem “Finding Home In Loneliness”. A great first line on its own, but the enjambment is impressive and does a lot of work. To break on “fire” and “home”, raised such a high bar for this poem that I wondered if it would sustain its quality. It does. The word “home” appears five times, but this feels intentional, as does the uneven stanzas and line lengths, which work to unfold the images and evoke longing, wandering and loneliness. Also the speed and rhythm of the lines become a kind of spreading fire, it roars and then simmers by the end where we are left with the feeling of the speaker, despite stating to have found “a home away from home”, the sadness and pain for the “home” that has been left continues to burn. This is serious poetry talent and this poet must keep writing!”
In addition to a monetary prize of $500 for winners and $250 for runners-up, poems will be published in the Beirut-based journal Rusted Radishes in the first week of January and will be displayed at Barjeel alongside the paintings.