Within the past few years, the people of Kuwait, a Middle Eastern country, started noticing a positive aura to the artistic ambiance in the nation. Kuwait has always been an advocate for the arts, with national museums and such projects displaying so. The youth, though, have not always been caught up. I grew up in Kuwait and I never went to artistic events that had to do with poetry or music. They were always there, I just never took notice. As I entered my senior year of high school, however, I joined a group of poets called the Kuwait Poets Society, and ever since, we have been thriving in creating, and bringing attention to, an art scene in Kuwait. Kuwait Poets Society is a major contributor to the growth of poetry in Kuwait for youngsters like us, and I am here to introduce you, through an interview, to its very own co-founder.
Who are you? Tell us about you.
My name is Rawa Majdi, co-founder of Kuwait Poets Society, and I am into performance poetry. I am also a full-time computer teacher (I used to teach kids and now I teach the upper level) and community organizer. I live between Chicago and Kuwait, and I am Palestinian-American. I have been writing poetry ever since I can remember. I cannot remember a time where I did not write. I got into poetry in middle school, and it was not until 2015 for spoken word and performance poetry. Other than that, my hobbies you can say are developing programs and games.
How did you get into poetry?
When I was in 8th grade, I had a teacher, Ms. Chantaj, and she had a poetry unit for us.poet
It was not the first time I wrote poetry, I used to go with the flow of “butterflies high in the sky,” but this time, I felt something, like a spark. Through high school I went through pages and pages of writing and talking to myself and journaling in a beautiful way. I never showed it to anyone; it was my way of saying secrets without having to tell. I always believed that poetry is a way of telling your secrets without telling in a way that can be beautiful; it turns something ugly into something beautiful, and this happens especially in performance poetry because you’re interacting with the audience.
Do you feel it was more intense to write in high school?
Everything is painful and the end of the world in high school. Everything was built-up and I was writing to cope.
What certain topics you would write about?
I was exploring my creative self. I wrote about everything, from venting to writing about nature.
What made you think of Kuwait Poets Society?
January 2016 is when AJ (my sister) and I said that we need a space for poetry and a chill group with no hate as the only rule. We wanted poets to be able to come together once or twice a month and talk about poetry and about what they read in general, give feedback, and just chill with people. AJ and I were chilling on our way home one night and I looked at her and told her about the space we needed to share poetry, drink coffee, and share our favorite poems. I told her the space would be all about no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, and anything that is intolerant. Later, that night, I tweeted my first tweet about forming a poetry group.
Not immediately. What happened after that was beyond what I would imagine would happen. I imagined three or four people reaching out and it ended up being 15 people that reached out to me through direct message.
What was the first meeting like? What were the dynamics like?
We only communicated through Whatsapp at first. We had no name from January to June. For me, it was just, “yeah, I am meeting up with my poetry friends”. We met every month. It had that cozy, family feeling from day one. We got a few new members every month and we kept on growing and growing. In May of 2016, we had 20 members show up to a meeting and we just said we need a new space, no cafes can hold us anymore. We also decided that we need a name.
Tell us about AJ as your co-founder.
It is our project. Our thing. We did everything hand-in-hand. She helps out even after going for college. She is our main emcee and she is my right hand.
Tell us about the vice president.
Engy was an amazing person from the beginning. She joined in October 2016. She is amazing at poetry and organizing and helps us plenty. She is bright and always shining.
Tell us about how Kuwait Poets Society is structured, and you as a team.
We are very structural. We are great together and we do not take more work than what we can handle.
As co-founder, what do you do?
I spend a lot of free time on KPS. I just help in leading everyone to do a great job. I have a great support team.
Tell us about Kuwait Poets Society now.
KPS still lives by its rule of no hate. We’ve grown. Now there are events, feedback sessions, and workshops. We collaborate with other Kuwaiti groups for poetry nights and readings. We are bringing together the art scene, visual arts, music, and writers. Not just poetry, we are beyond just poetry. We use Whatsapp every day to communicate. We share and encourage writing through partnerships and group collaborations and prompts.
Our staff used to have 8 people and now we are 16 people. We are 67 in total.
What is the cultural season in Kuwait?
The cultural season is becoming more and more and vague because people create into the summer. Once October rolls around and the weather becomes better. Usually, in the summer everyone’s hibernating and people are traveling because it is too hot.
Now that it’s October, what are your predictions?
This season we have the biggest staff. We are creating more physical workshops and online workshops. We are also creating a magazine and focusing on publications. We have a lot in the works!
Tell us about each season you had and what was the emblem event of each season?
First season was an exploration. We were like “Yes! We can do events and stuff”. Things went well. When we started KPS, we didn’t really want events. We wondered where we would host them. Our people really wanted events and it was crazy how we found a location. That is how Voices and Verses, our first continuous event happened. It started in November 2016. We celebrated our first birthday through Voices and Verses as well in January 2017. Voices and Verses became more professional as we moved along. We would host practices and such. We then hosted open mics at Applebee’s to be a more chill event.
We wanted something different for the second season. We created a slam competition, but it kept on getting postponed for different reasons. Later, we realized poetry is not about winning or losing and that new poets would feel discouraged to perform. We started judging ourselves because of expectations and growth. We did host performance events five times at the Australian College of Kuwait’s auditorium.
What are the dynamics of the group?
We have different people of different ages and obviously personalities, some are teens, and some are in their late 20s and early 30s. Some were born to perform, and some have issues performing but get shy. We have the loud and the quiet. Some people write only for the page and some people write pieces that were written to be performed. We have people who write in Urdu, Arabic, Spanish. Some people write with a mix. Every poet a part of our family has similar personalities just deep down. They all pay attention to life; even if they’re introverted or extroverted, they’ll always have a sense for the beauty in life.
How do you think Kuwait Poets Society fits into the art scene in Kuwait?
Up until 2016 the art scene in Kuwait was kind of underground. Visual arts have been around for a while. In 2016 music and poetry flourished more publicly. We are one of the first who used to host events every two weeks or every month. People started learning about poetry as an art or a form of expression and we always work with musicians.
What do you think is currently happening to the poetry scene in Kuwait and the Gulf of Arabia?
Poetry is still growing but it is not new to the Gulf. There have been open mics that have been going on for a decade now. Poetry still has an underground feeling to it, but maybe poetry will always be like that. I don’t think it is supposed to be mainstream. It has beauty and coolness to it. Music will expand more.
Do you feel like you would ever bring dance as an art to your events in Kuwait?
Not for KPS. It is more for singer/songwriting. Big musical stuff doesn’t fit in with the poetry vibe.
Did you have anyone specifically tell you that KPS is a pioneer of all of this?
Audience members said it. They told me that they started looking at poetry differently.
What are your future plans?
Most likely bringing back poetry night.
Anything you’d like to tell someone who wants to form an artistic group?
Start small and start with love. As soon as you start to feel you’re unable to do everything you want to do logistically, ask the members and a lot of them would love to help.
Anyone you would like to thank for making Kuwait Poets Society possible?
Thank you to all the members who joined and volunteered their time to write and help out with the events and talking to other groups. Also, the staff and the board. They are the most amazing people in the world.