‘Poetic License’ – it’s not just about poetry

BEIRUT: Artists are encouraged to exercise a right often denied to the rest of us: The “artistic” or “poetic license” to ignore inconvenient rules of grammar or language, or the banality of boring facts, in the service of a higher beauty. Poetry – whether it follows the conventional rules of rhyme and meter or is conveyed through the delicate strokes of an artist’s paintbrush – transcends the detail to encapsulate the essence.

Poetic License, a series of regular live events held in various venues around Beirut, aims to celebrate poetic expression in all its forms. Founded by a Lebanese spoken word artist and DJ who goes by the name “Madnomad,” Poetic License grew out of an earlier series of poetry slams, competitive events in which participants’ performances are rated against one another by audience members or judges.

Madnomad, who first encountered poetry slams while living in Sweden, organized a number of the competitions in Lebanon a decade ago. Alienated by the format, she founded Poetic License a few years ago, in search of a diverse platform for poetic expression that wasn’t governed by a particular set of rules.

“I wanted to give it an identity that would be different to other platforms,” she says. “First of all it’s not just about spoken word. It’s a platform for expression in any field – as long as it’s poetic, if you will. It can be music without words ... Sometimes we have photo exhibitions or [screen] art films ... We have performance art as well, and there’s always an artist – a painter or a graphic artist – who does the posters.

“It’s not just about poetry, and when it is poetry it’s not limited to a specific form or language. We have people reading in fusha and there is some really, like, vulgar, contemporary poetry, and many people use satire in their poetry, so there’s lots of different forms.”

Each event features a roster of artists, from spoken word performers to musicians and fine artists. The topics they tackle are as diverse as the formats in which they work.

“It’s a license to express yourself, so there’s no limits,” explains Madnomad. “It’s not like you cannot talk about politics or you cannot talk about sex – there are no taboos. Of course there’s [an element of] common sense. You cannot express racist [opinions] or stuff like that, but no one does that anyway.”

The regularity of the events varies. They’re “just as regular as anything in Lebanon,” Madnomad laughs. Last summer, the platform took up residency at Demo in Gemmayzeh, where performances were held once a week. Each featured a selection of regulars, as well as an open mic session at which newcomers were invited to share their own work.

This summer, events have been less frequent, but Madnomad never lets more than three months go by without organizing something, she says. The next event is set to take place Thursday and will be held at Mezyan in Hamra for the first time.

This time the organizer has chosen to forego an open mic setup to allow the regular members of the group – the number fluctuates between around 15 and 30 people, depending on who is in the country – time to perform.

The diverse lineup is set to feature around 20 performers and will include a wide selection of poetry and spoken word, as well as blues poetry from duo Assem Bazzi and Jawad El Mawla, acoustic rap from Bilad El-Sham, performance art by Elie Houhanna and Madame Chandelier, satire by Michelle Keserwany, music by indie pop band Sandmoon and a DJ set by Madnomad herself.

The founder says she tries to cultivate a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. “It’s like a family,” she says, “which is also one of the things that was very important to me. I don’t want to hype it up ... I don’t like that vibe. Especially because we have an open mic sometimes ... Some of the people who are regulars now started at the open mic.

“That’s one of the main things that drives me to do this, because you get the occasional delusional ‘poet’ rhyming ‘high’ and ‘sky,’ and ‘love from above’ and boring people with a seemingly never-ending text that’s not delivered skillfully, but those are rare. Every once in a while comes someone amazing. Like Nader Tabri, for example. He’ll be performing this Thursday and this man is a f---ing genius ... He came out of nowhere and now he’s on every time.

“That’s why it’s very important to create that warm feel, because it’s very hard for people to go up to the mic and share their hearts with a bunch of strangers.”

In the end, she says, Poetic License is about bringing people together.

“We have all sorts of different performers,” she stresses. “I try to emphasize the diversity that already exists. These people are my friends and I don’t see it as ‘my thing’ ... Poetry platforms tend to have a [certain] type of people, who are like-minded politically or whatever, so they all agree with each other’s poetry and it’s just another form of expressing the same thing.

“I’m more interested in not only different genres and forms of expression but also different ways of thinking ... You have people who are very into hip-hop and they don’t know anything else, and then you have people who are completely different. They would never listen to hip-hop. So I try to mix these people up.

“I like the idea of people meeting under one roof where they would probably never do that under other circumstances.”

“Poetic License” takes place Thursday at Mezyan in Hamra. The event is free and begins at 9p.m. For more information, go to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 11, 2014, on page 16.




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