New Delhi: Poetess Nimah Ismail Nawwab, “The voice of Saudi Arabia” Print E-mail
 Sunday June 18, 2006

Saudi poetess unfurls various

By Mohammed Anas

Read also publication details and reviews of Nimah Ismail Nawwab's The Furling

Legendary poet Goethe’s quote, “A poet should seize the particular, ...and thus represent the universal” in the beginning of The Unfurling, the first collection of poems by Nimmah Ismail Nawwab from Saudi Arabia, speaks volumes and provides ample insight into the content of the book. It deals with issues that are synonymous with the Saudi public life ­ the conflicts in Afghanistan, the oil-burning anarchy in Iraq, the resurrected Palestinian intifada, the much-touted Saudi Arabian moral policing and the Arabian Nights. Her work defines her persona as an international news magazine crowned her “the voice of Saudi Arabia”.

This voice was recently heard in the capital when Nimmah visited Delhi with some of her friends. She was also a part of the Saudi people’s delegation that toured India on a goodwill mission at the time of Saudi King Abdullah’s Republic Day visit to India. The poetess exploited the chance to expand her literary horizons. She found a soulmate in Mirza Ghalib, the “nostalgic voice of Delhi”.

“It was a dream come true for me to visit the mausoleum of Ghalib and to know more about his persona and his works. Though I had only read and heard the translations of his work, the poet has delved deep impressions on my creative conscience with his poetic skills and range of subjects,” she says and mourns over the fact that Ghalib’s tomb looks a deserted place and Urdu itself is fighting a battle for survival in the land of its origin. “But I’ll learn Urdu,” she announces.

Literary pursuits of Nimmah stretches beyond Ghalib and she was equally excited to read the works of the new breed of Indian writers. “I’m curious to read Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth’s works,” she says, adding, “Indian writers, especially the young brigade, haven’t only earned money fame, recognition and literary identity in the international literary arena; they have helped India travel to the distant places in the world through their works. It can serve as a good precedent for the writers of the underdeveloped countries.”

Getting back to the lady in the poetess, she describes herself as a descendant of a celebrated scholarly family of Saudi Arabia. “My romance with poetry started when my father introduced me to Shakespeare when I was an eight-year-old school girl. I then nurtured the dream of becoming an astronaut or an African game warden,” she reminisces, expressing satisfaction at what fate had in store for her ­ a flight of imagination into a different realm than the world of galaxies.

“For my voice to be sent forth..,” she asks in her poem The Longing, “Crying out in the stillness of the quiet people, a voice among the voiceless?”  For Nimmah, the first poet from Saudi Arabia to have her works published in English by an American Press (Selwa Press), the answer has been a resounding yes. She has won many accolades including a book signing ceremony in Washington D.C. for her inquisitive readers. She has been invited to many international conferences to address women’s issues and is an active member of Southeast Asian Studies Institute.

Nimmah’s poems have been translated to her mother tongue Arabic and some of them have been used by the Saudi educators as part of the English Literature curriculum and poetry workshops. Her poetry explores different literary formats including haiku ­ the influence of Arabic in content, but she admits, “Prominent literary allusions found in my work are Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible.”

Also as an editor of a literary magazine in Saudi Arabia, she is currently working on her second book Where Prayer Measures Time: The Women of Saudi Arabia Speak, which she wished to compile as an anthology of writings on Arabic cultural ethos and women issues. She has  invited contributions from around the globe for this purpose.

“The purpose of this collection is to provide a true representation of the variety of women living within the Kingdom by accepting submissions from both the established and the emerging writers. Since women throughout the world are contributing to their respective societies, then why should Saudi Arabia remain an exception?” she explains.