Poetry Month 2013: Poetry Reality TV Shows
One of the main goals of National Poetry Month is to make poetry more accessible, to get poetry into more public and unexpected places. Can you imagine if millions of people tuned in every week to see “America’s Next Top Poet” or the like? Well, it’s not so far-fetched! While we may not be ready to trade in Ryan Seacrest for Robert Frost, many other places around the globe are way ahead of us. In the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, and India, poetry reality tv shows that function like American Idol or The Voice (complete with text voting!) are a huge success. Some are even the most viewed shows on their network. So, what’s the hold up, America? Let’s jump on this bandwagon already.
1. Prince of Poets (UAE)
A live audience, a huge stage, a panel of celebrity judges, SMS voting: Prince of Poets has all the elements of American Idol, and definitely has as much success. It’s a poetry reality tv competition for classical Arabic poets that airs weekly. Contestants are vying for a grand prize of one million dirhams (about 250 000 US dollars) and a “princely” gown and ring. The Abu Dhabi Poetry Academy also publishes poetry albums of the five winners. The competition involves the reading of original compositions as well as improvised poetry. Established Arabic poets and critics act as judges and provide feedback, but the viewers also get a say by voting for their favorite poets. The show has garnered millions of viewers, and excerpts of some poems recited on the show have even been made into ringtones! Check out this promo, and see if you can spot P of P’s Simon Cowell:
2. Kahta Hai Poet (India)
Kahta Hai Poet is an Indian poetry reality tv shows which is shot at 52 different locations across India! The reasoning for this was that the show’s first 12 contestants each had “a local standing enough to pull in 2000-5000 people for every recitals of verse, to a set,” once again demonstrating the huge popularity that poetry has across the world.
Khata Hai is hosted by the famous Bollywood actress, Mahima Chaudhry and poet Pratap Faujdar. It features a panel of celebrity judges and a public vote to decide the winner, but it also veers into The Voice territory. Led by eminent poets
Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green Santosh Anand, Satyanaratan Sattan, Rahat Indori, and Tej Narayan, contestants are divided into four teams. You can see more on their Youtube channel here.
3. Million’s Poet (UAE)
Similar to Prince of Poets, Million’s Poet is a live competition featuring original poetry, huge cash prizes, and SMS voting. This show garnered so much success, there is now a Million’s Poet Channel and a monthly magazine. It is the biggest reality hit TV show in the Gulf region. The judges critique based on language, technique, and style, and the title has become a prestigious and sought-after honor.
One of the most notable moments on Million’s Poet was when Saudi poet Hissa Hilal, fully veiled, delivered a scathing poem in Nabati form (native to nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula) against religious clerics, for which she recieved death threats. She says, “my poetry has always been provocative. It’s a way to express myself and give voice to Arab women, silenced by those who have hijacked our culture and our religion.” Her high marks from the performance sent her through to the show’s finale, in which she placed third.
4. African Poet (Nigeria)
African Poet features contestants selected from auditions held across the 16 geo-political zones of Nigeria, competing with poetry based on African theme, concept and setting. One hopeful contender is sent home each week until only one remains, winner of N5 million (about 35 000 US dollars). Episodes feature the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka and many other famous Nigerian writers as guest judges. The show’s creator says:
”we want to publish the unknown and unassuming poets and make more celebrities from our humble population of great unknown writers.”
5. Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam (USA)
It’s not a reality show, but it’s probably the closest thing we have. Def Poetry Jam is an HBO series produced by Russell Simmons and hosted by Mos Def with performances by established and emerging spoken word poets as well as actors and musicians such as Kanye West and Jamie Foxx. The show also inspired a Broadway production of conversational and theatrical poems, Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam, “a unique specialty act of multicultural spoken-word performances” which won a Tony Award in 2003. In an excerpt from the HBO show below, Alicia Keys performs an original poem:
Frankly, I am blown away by the popularity that poetry, even classical poetry, has around the globe. I find it inspiring. What do you think? Would you audition to be The Next Great American Poet? Do you think televising and commercializing poetry diminishes its value or helps to keep the great art alive? Let us know in the comments below (and feel free to use rhyming couplets!)