My Heart Groans Like a Mack Truck on a Steep Slope

These are the words of Saudi poet Bakhut al-Murriyyah of the al- Murrah tribe, who was the first Bedouin woman to compose poetry on heavy motorized vehicles, beginning in the 1950s.

Marcel discussing Bakhut al Murriyah with popular Saudi poet Hissa Helal

I learned about Bakhut and so many others from Marcel Kupershoek. Before I met Marcel Kupershoek at NYU Abu Dhabi where we both work, if anyone had recommended to me that I read Bedouin poetry, I would have thought they were making a joke—how do you read the poetry of illiterate people?  But after meeting Marcel, a tall, lanky retired Dutch diplomat who has dedicated his life to transcribing and translating Bedouin poetry from the Najd, the geographic center of what is now Saudi Arabia, I’ve come to realize poetry is like music when it comes to literacy—it’s written with rhythm and soul whether the creator can put letter to paper or not. While most Arab Bedouins can read today, their ancestors used memory instead of text to preserve these poems. I’m so glad that those of us who don’t rely on memory and disappearing oral storytellers, can now read them. And they are worth reading—racy, funny, daring. Bedouin stereotypes, like the camel and the desert sand are anything but clichés in these poems, but rather subterfuge for sharp wit.  Please see Aramco World for my interview with Marcel—and some fine poetry.

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